Susan Tousi (Chief Commercial Officer, Illumina) joins us at The Festival of Genomics & Biodata 2023 to tell us more about the role Illumina plays in the UK genomics landscape – including the origins of their proprietary sequencing-by-synthesis technology. We also learn more about the company’s recent NovaSeq X launch and the steps they are taking to improve sustainability across their platforms.
Please note the transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
FLG: What is your focus for the Festival of Genomics & Biodata this year and what technology are you showcasing?
Susan: We’re super excited to be at the Festival of Genomics & Biodata. For us it’s an opportunity to interact with customers across genomics and also for us to really inspire this incredible ecosystem of genomics that’s developed in the UK. We’re also very happy that it has aligned with the timing of our launch of NovaSeq X, our latest sequencing platform which comes with unprecedented speed, scalability, throughput – it’s a huge advancement for us.
FLG: Can you tell me more about what makes NovaSeq X important?
Susan: NovaSeq X has been more than a decade in the making and is really leveraged on (we’re coming up to our 25th anniversary at Illumina) so, it’s really leveraged all of the insights that we’ve had, what customers need and want over these last two decades. But it is a brand new platform so every aspect of it – the chemistry, the hardware, the data analysis, the environmental sustainability – it has all been developed from the ground up and the thought was always to get to a lower cost, faster speed, higher accuracy, scalability to really make genomics practical and able to be adopted across every part of the world and really at the affordability and accuracy to be part of healthcare.
FLG: Is it true the original Illumina sequencing technology was invented in the UK?
Susan: The original Illumina sequencing technology (SBS or sequencing-by-synthesis) started as a research project at University of Cambridge in the Department of Chemistry and lo and behold it has become the foundational technology for Illumina over the last two decades. And we continue to evolve it and most of the ideas, the new ideas for SBS, come from the core inventors who we’re very lucky are still with us in our UK office.
FLG: And the links to the UK run deep beyond these inventions. Illumina seems to have played a key role in genomics in the UK.
Susan: We’re very proud of the history that we have in the UK. As I mentioned, a lot of our core scientists are still with us having spun out the technology from University of Cambridge but also we’ve developed a real cross-functional capability in the UK and we have commercial, medical affairs, marketing, we have all functions that we’ve really invested and grown in the UK and the reason is because the UK really is, I think, at the epicentre and really pushing the innovation around genomics. The UK is a global leader in really advancing genomics, in developing a thriving ecosystem, in supporting the largest projects and we’ve been very proud to be partners with, for example, the 100,000 project, partners with UK government and with the NHS as genomics has been adopted into the NHS. We’ve also partnered on projects like UK Biobank and next generation projects like Our Future Health. So, we’re really proud to be partners on these projects – to not only be inspired by them but also to help support and launch these large-scale initiatives.
I have to say that everywhere I go in the world where they’re thinking about doing national scale projects, where they’re thinking about genomics in the practice of healthcare, they’re always asking me what’s the UK doing, what can we learn from it, how can we learn and make sure that we’re not reinventing the wheel. I think the UK has been not only kind of aspirational, but it’s actually really realised the vision of genomics in the practice of medicine.
FLG: What is Illumina doing to be more sustainable?
Susan: We see that the health of the planet and human health are completely intertwined. With our mission being advancing human health, we feel that we have a role to play in terms of really advancing how we deal with sustainability and protecting our natural resources. So much so that with our NovaSeq X platform we have invested more than a decade of really getting to the point where we can ship our reagents without cold chain. So, no dry ice, we’ve reduced the amount of packaging involved in shipping our core reagents by 90%, the amount of plastics involved are 50% less. So that shows a real commitment and investment over a decade of getting there and a lot of those innovations on thermostable components of our reagents came from our UK scientists who really believe in bettering our environmental footprint. We want to do big science, big scale but with the least impact to the environment.