Gene and Tonic: A 2016 Timeline

Theral Timpson


Journalists listen to others telling them what actually happened all year long.  But for this one week at the first of the year, we like to make up our own stuff.

January - The general mood at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco is one of relief.  

“Last month the FBI caught the lead mastermind behind the pharma industry’s high drug prices, and he’ll be brought to justice,” says the CEO of a pharma giant to a room full of investors and journalists at the historic St. Francis Hotel.  “Problem solved.”

Also at the J.P. Morgan, Illumina releases a new sequencing instrument called, JuniorSeq.    Hailed as a major milestone in the forward progress of health and disease prevention and wellness and all that is good and proper for mankind, the new machine represents a partnership between Illumina  and Facebook.  Within months, we're told, we’ll be seeing the new JuniorSeq and accompanying software in elementaries and high schools and universities around the world.

To a room full of sober faced but giddy investors, Illumina CEO, Jay Flatley, announces, “This is a new era when our children will have the ability--and therefore the right--to search their own genomes and share them with their friends on Facebook.”  

In attendance is Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who adds:  “I only wish I was in college again!”

February - Not to be outdone by Illumina, Pacific Biosciences releases their own new sequencing machine at the AGBT conference in Marcos Island, Florida.  They are calling it Prequel.

CEO Mike Hunkapiller:  “First of all, I’d like to remind everyone that this beach resort is the designated place to launch new sequencing products.   We’re very proud to launch our new Prequel.  If we could go back in time, this is the instrument we would have began the company with.    But anyway, here it is now.  All of the big sequencing projects should be redone with long read technology.  Maybe we can't rewrite history, but we can and must redo all those genomes . . including Craig’s.”

March - The covers of Forbes and Fortune feature healthcare’s latest wunderkind billionaire, the nineteen year old male-to-female transgender founder of Unicorn Health.  The cover articles reveal that the media’s newest darling started her company when she was just twelve in a Seattle elementary school and has been operating in stealth for seven years.  

A former teacher of the founder, who is on the Unicorn Health board of directors says: “I’m very proud of her.  She was a him when she was in my biology class.  And this is back when there were no JuniorSeqs around.”

According to Forbes, Unicorn Health will be changing healthcare and wellness for all in the very near future by enabling everyone on the planet to spit onto their mobile phones and get an immediate readout of something. 

Also on Unicorn’s board of directors are major dignitaries, including Gehngis Kahn and one of the original members of the 80’s popular music band, Milli Vanilli.

The company has not yet published any data.

The Forbes journalist was particularly exuberant in his article about the new startup and it’s innovative and disruptive founder.  “She not only disrupted gender, she’s disrupting health, business, and spit,” he writes.  “Furthermore, having a transgender is a new thing for the Forbes billionaire list and is really exciting.”  

May - The FDA releases their final guidance on Laboratory Developed Tests, or LDTs.  The new guidance groups LDTs in two categories:  WGTO or We Got This One and WHNC or We Have No Clue.  

June - The Festival of Genomics will be held again just outside Boston on an open field next to a dairy farm.  Bailing out of a helicopter in pouring rain two weeks prior to the event, the conference lead organizer runs to the barn and addresses a few reporters in a crisp West End London accent.

“This is the site where history will be made.  There will be five stages, all of which will hold great rock bands including U2, KISS and EditMyJeans.  There will be no scientific presentations, which comes closer to fulfilling our real vision of bringing scientists closer together with patients. . . . We’ll be handing out CRISPR kits, so if anyone wants to do a little CRISPRing on the side, then that’s fine.”

July - The FDA’s final guidance on LDTs is held up in the Congressional Budget Office, indefinitely.

A spokesman for the Diagnostic Test Working Group says:  "This is a victory for innovation and capitalism.  Now investors can go back to being uncertain about whether there is money in diagnostics rather than that unworkable certainty that there is not."

August - A New York Times journalist reveals that Unicorn Health has no new proprietary technology and has in fact been using some old equipment from a lab at MIT.  When queried by the Forbes journalist who wrote the cover article back in March about just how she found this out, the NYT journalist tweets back:  #made #some #calls.

September - Another #summit #meeting #convention #whatever-you-will called @GeneEditingEthics arrives at another consensus:  #opencarry.

The meeting is hailed as an important event by all the important news outlets.

Also, the word CRISPR and various forms of it, i.e., adjective: CRISPRed and present participle verb:  CRISPRing, are added to the Oxford English Dictionary.  

Novemember - Illumina launches the KinderSeq at ASHG.

December - Roche announces their list of 150 acquisitions for the year. 

“We thought one press release just simplified things,” says a Roche spokesperson.  

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