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Illumina (US) acquires DNA expert BlueBee (Flanders)

American genomics leader Illumina has acquired Flanders-based start-up BlueBee, which developed cutting-edge digital technology to drastically accelerate DNA processing and analysis. Together, the two companies hope to further speed up clinical research on genetic diseases and therapies.  

DNA molecules

Enormous computing power

BlueBee may not the best-known start-up in Flanders, but the young company has rapidly established a global presence in the booming market of DNA analysis. BlueBee is the product of research by Koen Bertels, a computer science professor from Flanders who works at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and who discovered a way to make supercomputers more efficient.  

Backed by this unprecedented processing power, BlueBee launched itself into the world of DNA analysis. DNA sequencing is a cornerstone of the future of healthcare, paving the way toward more predictive and personalized healthcare applications. Because DNA sequencing is so data intensive – one genome produces a genetic code of over 3 billion characters –, processing it presents a huge and time-consuming bottleneck. BlueBee solves this problem in part, with Bertels’ technology accelerating analysis by a factor of 5 thanks to the enormous computing power.  

Turning raw data into useful insights

Despite being a relatively recent technology, BlueBee is used worldwide to perform DNA analysis and clinical research. This success did not go unnoticed by Illumina. The San Diego-based company has played a key role in DNA analysis for the past ten years. It produces and sells DNA processing instruments. With a network of 15,000 sequencing machines worldwide, Illumina has a market share of 90% and a market value of USD 50 billion.  

“By acquiring BlueBee, Illumina seeks to take the industrialization of the DNA sector to new levels,” explains BlueBee CEO Hans Cobben. “Illumina has a strong position in DNA laboratory instruments. With our technology, it can add a smart layer and turn raw data into clinically useful insights: a strategic quantum leap!”  

Turbocharging clinical research

Together, Illumina and BlueBee hope to turbocharge clinical research on genetic diseases and therapies. Cobben: “If you can screen DNA at population level, you can look for new biomarkers, biological characteristics indicating a particular disease. We are already working together to accelerate research into infectious diseases such as COVID-19 by mapping the human immune system on a large scale.”  

Bertels had not been operationally involved with BlueBee for some time and is now working on research into yet another generation of computers: the quantum computer for genome sequencing. Cobben, together with BlueBee’s 35-person team, is transferring to Illumina: “Our people in Flanders and the Netherlands will become a center of excellence for Illumina.”  

More info

Reported by
Newspaper De Tijd
29 June 2020

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