The world’s leading DNA sequencing company delegates scientific research executive for Amsterdam 2016
“I love to come to Amsterdam. Actually I wanted to visit the conference last year, but I couldn’t make it due to other obligations. Now I’m asked to be a keynote speaker, it’s fantastic!” The organising committee of next December’s International MicroNano Conference in Amsterdam is as happy as Shane Bowen having such a top keynote speaker on the program. The press more than once characterised Bowen’s company Illumina as ‘The Apple of biotech’.
Founded in 1998 in San Diego, California. Illumina’s growth has been remarkable, with a 2015 annual revenue greater than $2.2 Billion dollars. ln 2014 MIT selected Illumina as ‘the world’s smartest company’. Illumina is the leading developer of the systems used to perform fundamental studies in genomics. They focus their innovation process cycle on rapid and continuous development of new, user friendly and evermore cost effective solutions. Applications of their technology range from driving the foundation of studies in cancer, population genomics and agri-genomics, to providing the ever-increasing in popularity consumer products offered by Ancestry.com and 23andMe.
In August last year a European science and engineering magazine used the term ‘appstore for your DNA’ in relation to Illumina. It is the breakthrough of preventive diagnostics, based on genonomic information.
“We make the tools for interrogating DNA. I’m the head of the nanofabrication group in the department of research and technology development. We bridge the gap between ‘blue-sky’ research and product development. We focus on applied research that has a direct impact on revenue for the company. To be ahead of the competition and to stay successful, we continuously have to scan and scout what’s in store for the future, which trends are maturing and what should we be investing in for tomorrow’s success? A conference like this is a perfect opportunity for me to not only see what the rest of the community is working on but also foster new relationships for the next generation of projects. I’m constantly looking for opportunities to form new partnerships and I’m always searching for new people to join my team.”
Bowen’s statements are substantiated by the announcement earlier this year that Illumina bought the Amsterdam based start-up TromboDX. The scientific founder of this company, the young professor from the VU University Amsterdam Tom Würdinger, now works for Illumina, bringing the results of his liquid biopsy research on the market.
“Being at the conference means a lot of networking for me” says Bowen. “And besides, in my experience it is also just a lot of FUN. Yes I will meet friends and acquaintances as we are doing business with a number of companies that are a member of the organising MinacNed organization.
Who are Illumina’s customers at the moment?
“Over the last decade, illumina’s primary customer base has been medical and academic researchers. But there is a transition transition taking place at this time, from basic research to applications in the diagnostic space. Diagnostic platforms and genetic based treatments are a reality today and this is our focus. We aim to improve the global health based on genomic data. We are now a medical device company. This is fascinating to experience – and I feel so proud and lucky to be a part of it.
On a personal basis, my wife and I had our genomes evaluated using the 23andMe platform, and we learned a lot about our daughter before they have been born! This was amazing. We see the explosion in prenatal testing as super exciting and very important for all of us. Our tests tests are much less invasive on the mother – we have developed an alternative to the amniocentesis test which is much safer and just as informative, thanks to our technology.”
Bowen refers to the recent acuisitions of Illumina to illustrate the company’s development towards diagnostics. The founding of the new spin-out called Grail fits in this strategy. Grail, in which the Dutch TromboDX will be incorporated, concentrates on early cancer detection. The famous Bill Gates is one of the co-investors.
Does Shane Bowen have a special message in the build-up to the MicroNano Conference 2016?
“Yes sure. Today is an interesting timing for the MicroNano Conference. We are in a time of extreme growth for genetics based studies and data – this is going to chage the way medicine is performed, and the end result will hopefully be a much healthier world for all of us. As for next generation nanofabrication, we are at the foundation of all of these tests – we are responsible for the substrates upon which all of the chemistry is performed. In the future, I foresee significant advancements coming from new materials, I foresee transitions from conventional top-down fabrication to bottoms-up molecular based self-assembly as being game changes in the future.”
“By the way, do you know it will be my birthday during the conference in Amsterdam?”
Really? What is it, the 13th or the 14th of December?
Ok, we’ll have a beer or two!