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11 September, 2019 - 10:57 By Tony Quested

Illumina set for further expansion from new Cambridge EMEA HQ

Genome sequencing world leader Illumina is set to trigger a fresh phase of growth from its new Cambridge-based EMEA headquarters as it continues to revolutionise personalised healthcare.

Shortly after moving in, the company has already filled its core space at the new Granta Park flagship building with more than 500 staff operating at capacity but brokered in expansion space on-site and is set to trigger that option.

It is currently advertising 30 new positions, including expert recruiters to ensure it finds the right quality of hire to accelerate its role in the long-awaited post-genomics era revolution.

The EMEA HQ will also support the freshly-extended Illumina Accelerator initiative – the first outside of the San Diego mothership – which seeks to fund, handhold and steer more Cambridge, UK and European genome-centric startups to global success.

In all, Illumina has around 650 UK staff but based on demand for its genome sequencing services and new technology recently brought in-house, Paula Dowdy – Illumina's senior VP and general manager, Commercial Operations, EMEA – believes the Cambridge operation will continue to blossom long-term.

Illumina is spending up to £60m on the Granta Park facility as it continues to leverage the sequencing world lead gained via the $650m acquisition of Cambridge pioneer Solexa in 2007.

Dowdy points out that when the first human genome was sequenced in 2003 it had taken 13 years at a cost of more than £2 billion. Today a genome can be sequenced in less than a day for around £600.

Worldwide customers are now forming an orderly queue to gain access to the company’s new Novaseq 6000.

As Dowdy observes: “We are still only at the beginning of the genomic revolution.”

While paying due homage to the work of Crick & Watson in discovering the DNA double helix in Cambridge in 1953 and the work of Cambridge-based Sanger in leading the mapping of the human genome, Dowdy says the future starts now.

She says: “Around one in 17 people – some 3.5 million in the UK alone – will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their lives.

“Whole genome sequencing has the potential yo shorten the route to diagnosis and allow the patient to begin condition-specific management as well as transforming researchers’ understanding of genetic disease.”

The NHS and individual hospitals are buying into the Illumina solution and 45 per cent of the US-governed group’s Research & Development effort is now steered from Cambridge, Dowdy reveals.

Most of the key Solexa people stayed with the business following Illumina’s acquisition, which has clearly boosted continuity and stoked momentum, and Cambridge teams collaborate with the California-based parent to ensure every element of the research effort is optimised. “Solexa IS Illumina,” Dowdy says.

She adds that bringing the world famous Illumina accelerator to Cambridge will further strengthen the cluster’s genomic capability to the benefit of increasing numbers of disease sufferers.

Dowdy says Illumina has already engaged with Cambridge startups, academic and investment thought leaders to ensure the Cambridge Accelerator gets off to a flying start and generates best practice among sometimes strategically naive early-stage businesses.

She said: “We are already engaging with young companies whose technology in the genomics sector has obvious game-changing potential to the benefit of patients globally.

“However, these startups are sometimes not the most commercially savvy and are unsure how to best develop and sell their proposition to investors and customers.

“That all changes once they join our accelerator: We are happy to take a coaching role and use the talent here at Illumina to mentor startups in all aspects of building a successful business to they maximise their potential – not just for themselves and Cambridge but for populations around the world.

“Accelerator companies get access to our best people and free sequencing facilities while they are under our wing, both of which are fantastic assets.

“In a nutshell, lending our turnkey commercialisation expertise we will de-risk their businesses and therefore increase their chances of success. Everyone wins from this scenario.

“There is a distinct philosophical angle to our Accelerator: we are not schooling companies so we can exploit their technology or take it to a new headquarters somewhere else across the world. We were a Cambridge startup ourselves and we have a role to play in the genomics industry to help other startups similarly thrive.”

Since launching in 2014 in the San Francisco Bay Area, Illumina Accelerator has invested in 33 genomics startups from across the globe, which have collectively raised over $300 million in venture capital funding.

The Accelerator is a company creation engine focused on partnering with entrepreneurs to build breakthrough genomics startups. The inaugural funding cycle of Illumina Accelerator Cambridge will begin in Spring 2020.
Applications for the inaugural funding cycle in Cambridge and for the 11th funding cycle in the San Francisco Bay Area are due by November 1.

Through a single, global application process, Illumina Accelerator will select up to five companies in each location to participate in two, six-month cycles per year.

Dowdy said: “With 21 years of experience advancing the field of genomics, Illumina is delighted to foster the next generation of global genomics innovators.

“With the launch of Illumina Accelerator Cambridge, we are expertly positioned to further catalyse the rapidly expanding genomics ecosystem across EMEA.”

During two, six-month funding cycles per year, Illumina Accelerator provides selected startups with access to seed investment, access to Illumina sequencing systems and reagents, as well as business guidance, genomics expertise, and fully operational lab space adjacent to Illumina's campuses in Cambridge UK or the San Francisco Bay Area.

Illumina Accelerator Cambridge is partnering with several leading venture capital firms across Europe, including SV Health Investors, Sofinnova Partners, Seventure Partners, F-Prime Capital, and Illumina Ventures, to provide selected startups with hands-on company-building expertise and coaching during the six-month funding cycle in Cambridge.

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