Illumina and Gene Solutions cooperate to revolutionise Vietnamese healthcare

October 12, 2022 | 08:00
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Advancements in genomics will revolutionise healthcare by propelling lifesaving discoveries and improving human health. Robert McBride, senior sales director at Illumina in Asia Pacific and Japan, and Giang Hoa, vice president of Medical Genetics Institute and co-founder of Gene Solutions, discuss the emerging field in Vietnam with VIR’s Thanh Van.

Could you shed some light on Illumina’s business operation?

McBride: Illumina is a global leader in DNA sequencing and array-based technologies, serving customers in research, clinical, and applied markets. Our products are used for applications in the life sciences, oncology, reproductive health, agriculture, and other emerging segments.

With more than two decades of development, Illumina continues its mission to improve human health by unlocking the power of the genome. To realise the mission, Illumina has actively expanded operations with research and development centres and laboratories across the world.

In Vietnam, Illumina made a deep penetration into the market with 66 gene sequencers being deployed at local healthcare facilities. Illumina’s technologies have made contributions to improving cancer and genetic disease treatments for Vietnamese patients.

Illumina and Gene Solutions cooperation to revolutionise Vietnamese healthcare
Rob McBride, senior director sales of Illumina in Asia Pacific and Japan

How could Vietnam’s healthcare system benefit from the NovaSeq X Series?

McBride: In October, Illumina officially launched the NovaSeq X Series, new production-scale sequencers. The new technology is expected to push the limits of what is possible with genomic medicine, enabling faster, more powerful, and more sustainable sequencing. With the new technology, we can diagnose pregnancy, cancer, rare diseases, and genetic diseases with more accuracy, thereby enhancing screening and treatment procedures and improving patient outcomes.

Using revolutionary new technology, the NovaSeq X Series is the most advanced sequencing system available today. In particular, NovaSeq X Plus can generate more than 20,000 whole genomes per year, 2.5 times the throughput of prior sequencers.

While our previous series could analyze 24 samples within a few days, the new technology enables us to analyze 48 samples within 24 hours. This improvement greatly accelerates genomic discovery and clinical insights to understand disease and ultimately transform patient lives.

Furthermore, the launch of the NovaSeq X Series is expected to drive down sequencing costs, making genomics available to more Vietnamese people. Indeed, since 2002, with innovation, the cost of DNA sequencing has dropped significantly, from $100 million per human genome to less than $600 today. NovaSeq X is set to lower the sequencing costs to $200-$500, which makes the new-generation technology affordable and accessible to many patients, including those in Vietnam.

It is worth noting that the NovaSeq X Series can be implemented in national or large-scale projects for pandemic preparedness in Vietnam. The advances in sequencing technology will enable us to increase the sample size, power, and diversity of research cohorts, including population biobanks. For example, Illumina can facilitate the sequencing of a coronavirus or monkeypox virus. These results will lay the groundwork for the development of new drugs as well as support the government's efforts to protect its citizens and address the virus hotspots effectively.

Applications of gene sequencing technology also include determining the risk of genetic diseases of the fetus, screening for many types of cancer and genetic diseases, identifying species in the ecosystem.

Could you share the partnership between Gene Solutions and Illumina to expand the accessibility of genomic medicine?

Illumina and Gene Solutions cooperate to revolutionise Vietnamese healthcare
Dr. Giang Hoa, co-founder of Gene Solutions

Giang: Gene Solutions is Vietnam's market-leading genetic testing business, founded in 2017. Our vision is to make genetic testing affordable and accessible to millions of Vietnamese, thus transforming their health. To realise this vision, we are focusing on applied research to bring the most advanced technology into the oncology field. There are 300,000 cancer cases in Vietnam, of which 80–90 per cent are detected in late stages. However, most treatment methods are not effective for cancer patients in the late stages. One important application of genomics is to detect cancer at early stages to deliver better patient outcomes, reduce treatment costs, and ease the burden on the healthcare system.

To facilitate this, Gene Solutions has widely adopted Illumina's technologies for our services in Vietnam. Our portfolio consists of eight Illumina sequencers, ranging from the most powerful NovaSeq 6000 system to the ones with lower capacities, to ensure the timely delivery of the results, and meet the needs of patients and the market.

How does Gene Solutions implement sequencing technology to monitor genetic diseases?

Giang: Reproductive health is another key focus area of ​​Gene Solutions. Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) has become the new norm in the global healthcare market. We have applied Illumina's NIPT technology to diagnose and screen genetic diseases for better reproductive health.

Furthermore, Gene Solutions also delivers Illumina's whole-exome sequencing method for pediatric patients. By analyzing entire genomes, we can identify inherited disorders within one day. We can compare the sequencing results with the clinical systems of pediatric patients to detect and diagnose any genetic abnormalities.

In the past, it took one month to conduct genetic tests, which delayed the timely treatment of pediatric patients. However, the advances in technology allow us to shorten the testing time to one or two days. As a result, pediatric patients can receive a more accurate and faster diagnosis.

What are some new innovations by Gene Solutions and Illumina to improve human health?

Giang: Although Vietnam may lag behind other countries in advanced medical technology, the country may have a competitive advantage in genomics. Our tie-up with Illumina is an encouragement for Vietnam given that Illumina owns the world's most powerful and fastest sequencers. It means Vietnam will no longer fall behind other countries in the field of genomics.

For instance, Illumina's genomic Galleri test can diagnose and screen 50 oncology types in their early stages. The genomic test allows us to track the chance of cancer reemergence after treatment by detecting any mutations and abnormalities present in tumors. The technology has received much attention from different medical associations that want to include the test in their diagnosis and treatment processes.

Meanwhile, Gene Solutions has invented a new breakthrough technology called SPOT-MASTM that helps detect circulating tumor DNA. SPOT-MAS TM liquid biopsy tests enable the detection of five types of cancer in the liver, lung, colorectal, stomach, and breast.

We only need to take a blood sample to diagnose cancer rather than take a CT scan or have surgery to see signs of tumor cells. This noninvasive method is really effective for early cancer detection and screening. At present, more than 50 hospitals across the country have participated in the programme to evaluate the efficiency of SPOT-MAS.

Gene Solutions secures $15 million from Mekong Capital

Gene Solutions secures $15 million from Mekong Capital

Mekong Capital has announced that Mekong Enterprise Fund IV (MEF IV) invested $15 million into Gene Solutions to make genetic testing affordable and accessible to millions of Vietnamese.

Genetica brings Southeast Asia's largest gene sequencing center to Vietnam's NIC

Genetica brings Southeast Asia's largest gene sequencing center to Vietnam's NIC

Gene decoding center Genetica has changed its plan of establishing a regional center in Singapore and picked Vietnam instead.

Becoming the next big hub for medical innovation

Becoming the next big hub for medical innovation

Over the past two decades, government health policy initiatives have accelerated Vietnam's healthcare industry development, while making laudable improvements in key healthcare indicators such as access to quality care and clinical outcomes.

By Thanh Van

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