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Illumina’s Jay Flatley: In “Shock and Awe” at State of Personalized Medicine

  • Illumina executive chairman Jay Flatley was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Personalized Medicine Conference on November 15, 2017, in Boston, MA.

    Flatley was introduced by Paul Billings, M.D., Ph.D. (a former competitor at Life Technologies), who described him as disruptive, smart, innovative, a job creator, and someone who has helped save many patient lives. “I’ve known Jay as a creative leader, a good listener, and a really good guy,” said Billings. Flatley dedicated his award to the 6000 Illumina employees.

    Flatley’s remarks on the state of the personalized medicine industry were framed around the theme of “shock and awe”: “I’m in awe of what we’ve accomplished [in genomic medicine], but find it shocking that we’ve limited the use of these tools” through over-regulation and other systemic issues.

    Under Flatley’s leadership, Illumina has emerged as the foremost genome-sequencing platform, having bought the British company Solexa in 2006. Flatley said the company’s instruments could sequence a human genome for as little as $800, and Illumina has “foreshadowed a path to the $100 genome” in the next few years. The Novaseq instrument can sequence one genome per hour.

    Flatley began his speech by highlighting areas of immense progress and promise in personalized medicine. For example, he pointed to growing awareness of the role of the microbiome, which plays “a pivotal role” in shaping therapeutic response, neurological, and gastrointestinal diseases. “The potential to modulate these organisms is absolutely incredible.”

    The CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology points to a day in the future when it is possible to eliminate most genetic disorders. “CRISPR germline editing is likely inevitable, but caution on that front is well advised,” Flatley said.

    Flatley also expressed awe at recent breakthroughs in therapeutics, noting 25 approved drugs are tailored to patient genetic profiles. “About 40% medicines in clinical trials could be classified as precision therapeutics,” said Flatley. In oncology, the figure rises to 75%.

    Flatley hailed the recent FDA expanded approval of Merck’s Keytruda® (pembrolizumab), based on patients’ genetic signature, as “a major milestone in oncology treatment that will have profound implications.” He imagined a future world in which “the drug becomes the companion therapeutic to what will be a universal genetic test.”

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    Illumina’s Jay Flatley: In “Shock and Awe” at State of Personalized Medicine

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