Podcast: What’s in the Water at the George Church Lab?

Jorge Conde (JC) of Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) recently spoke with Nebula Genomics co-founder, George Church (GC). When Jorge and George discuss diagnosis and prevention of disease [14:15] and the reasons why the number of people that have had their whole genome sequenced is still very low [19:35], it reminds us of our mission at Nebula and what we work on every day.

14:15 – Diagnosis and prevention of disease using whole genome sequencing.

JC: “What do you see as the next non-incremental step function change in the way we treat diseases, or manage diseases, or even diagnose diseases?”

GC: “Well first of all, if we started diagnosing that would be a really big thing. As a population, even worldwide, we’re under-diagnosed. There are a lot of VERY cost effective diagnoses […] and the care providers are not compensated as much [for them] as [for] some less effective, but expensive medicine. So diagnosis would be terrific.”

JC: “So basically, you’re saying misaligned incentives and human behavior have mitigated how much prevention we actually do?”

GC: “That’s right. But [personal genetics] would be a huge breakthrough so we could do more diagnosis and more prevention. Now, the ultimate diagnosis for genetics is whole genome sequencing […].”

19:35 – Three reasons why [mass adoption of whole genome sequencing] hasn’t happened yet?

GC on costs of sequencing: “Cost should probably be zero dollars.”

GC on genomic data privacy: “We should have a convincing mechanism of people getting benefit from their genome without […] anybody else knowing their genome. We should have something where [it can be used in an] encrypted form, not available to anybody, including insurance and government.”

GC on the value of genomic data: “Most people don’t understand the value [of personal genomic data]. It’s either misrepresented, but by both extremes. Some people say it’s so valuable that you’re going to whip out your cell phone twice a day and some people say I can’t imagine ever using it. And the reality is somewhere in between […].”