Cloud computing is coming for your DNA, and it will lead to better drugs and health care

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Credit: The Cancer Genome Atlas

DNAnexus, a Mountain View-based startup that leverages the cloud to turn raw DNA sequences into useful data, announced today that Regeneron Genetics Center is the latest health care company to use its system to search for new drugs.

The startup is already sifting through 1,000 exomes–the 1 percent of the human genome that is most relevant to health–each week, stripping away any information that could tie it back to its source while pulling out the interesting data points that can help laboratories and companies connect genes with different health problems. Institutions can use the pool of information to quickly search for a new drug or even a diagnosis for a single patient.

While the time and cost to sequence an entire genome has dropped to a day — or hours — and $1,000, from the 13 years and nearly $3 billion it took to complete the internationally-run Human Genome Project, more obstacles remain. It takes far more work and time to analyze the raw data of a genome in order to make it useful.

Enter companies like DNAnexus, which specializes in transporting DNA information directly from a sequencing machine and into the cloud, where it can be crunched into meaningful information. Cloud computing allows DNAnexus to translate a set of data in a week that might otherwise take six months at a data center. Regeneron is the first DNAnexus partner to handle its DNA exomes 100 percent in the cloud.

“It’s just an enormous reduction in the time and expense it takes to do this,” CEO Richard Daly said in an interview.

Sticking all that data in the cloud also makes it more accessible. Chief cloud officer Omar Serang said partners can already access each other’s data to run tests on as large a pool of genetic information as possible, but DNAnexus is also interested in bringing databases online that currently are only available to a few.

“They have achieved a scale where they can look for what would have been relatively rare occurrences in the data,” Serang said. “You need really large data sets to look for the next advancements in medicine.”

This story was updated at 11 a.m. on October 16 to state that DNAnexus is handling 1,000 exomes, not genomes, each week.

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