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28 April, 2021 - 21:42 By Tony Quested

Illumina pumps $60m into genomics venture and Q1 revenues soar

Genome sequencing speedster Illumina, whose European R & D HQ is in Cambridge, has wowed the markets with a double whammy.

The company has hoisted Q1 2021 revenues 27 per cent to a record $1.093 billion and committed $60 million in sequencing capabilities to a global pathogen genomics initiative in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other public and private entities. The initiative expands on the Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative announced last October and will help create a comprehensive pathogen genomic network around the world, building critical public health capabilities in areas of need.

Illumina is financially well-placed to make such telling global contributions to medical exploration.

On the Q1 results, CEO Francis deSouza, was buzzing. He said: “Orders during the first quarter of 2021 reached an all-time high demonstrating strength in our core business across all regions, reflecting growth in both clinical and research customers.

“We are seeing tremendous progress in clinical market access and reimbursement for genomic applications increasing access to genomic testing for patients worldwide. 

“We are proud of the significant contributions our customers, partners, and employees are making to the creation of a genomic epidemiology infrastructure to combat COVID-19, as well as monitor for future pathogen outbreaks for the benefit of global public health.”

Illumina’s Q1 performance was even more remarkable considering its commitment to advancing its technology through ongoing research. 

R & D expenses for the first quarter were $197m compared to $156m in the prior year period. At the close of the quarter, the company held $4.6 billion in cash, equivalents and short-term investments compared to $3.5 bn as of January 3. For fiscal 2021, the company expects year-over-year revenue growth in the range of 25-28 per cent.

In the pathogen genomics initiative, Illumina will donate next-generation sequencing (NGS) platforms, reagents, and training support worth approximately $60m over five years. 

The expanded scope will begin with a focus on South Asia, equipping national public health institutions with better public health tools, bringing us closer to the vision of an early warning system for global pathogens.

“Rapidly identifying outbreaks and tracking their spread and evolution will save lives around the world and is essential to strengthening health care systems,” said  deSouza. 

“Genomics has the power to revolutionise the way public health entities manage biological threats and this global initiative will help make NGS technology and expertise accessible in areas of need.”

Trevor Mundel, President of Global Health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, added: “It’s critical to empower scientists in South Asia, like we’re doing in Africa, with the tools they need to stay one step ahead of pathogens.”

The initiative will consider issues such as logistics, training, and sustainability and will expand by country depending on maturity and needs. Prioritised pathogens will be unique to each country or region as the initiative empowers individual countries to drive the program according to their specific needs and priorities.

Genomics can enable early detection of novel viruses by rapidly characterising new pathogens directly from specimens. Building pathogen genomics capabilities globally protects the health of everyone, since a threat in one place can quickly become a threat everywhere. 

In the future, genomics has the potential to concurrently provide comprehensive diagnosis of infections, antimicrobial resistance information, and pathogen surveillance for known and emerging threats.

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