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An Illuminating Investment


It is a rare few who can change the vast landscape of modern science and medicine as we know it today. Rancho Santa Fe resident Jay Flatley is one of those visionaries.

The 57-year-old is president and CEO of San Diego-based Illumina, a multi-million dollar company that develops, manufactures, and markets integrated systems for the analysis of genetic variation and biological function.  

Flatley was 2008 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Health Sciences. He holds a B.A. in economics from Claremont McKenna College and a B.S. and M.S. in industrial engineering from Stanford University. He was co-founder and director of Molecular Dynamics. Last summer, he launched Illumina’s service program of personal genome sequencing for consumers. The $100,000 fee has been steadily dropping.

“When we look out ten years, sequencing will be so affordable and so economically and medically compelling that many people will take advantage of it,” Flatley says. “In June we announced a price reduction to $19,500 for anybody that comes in, $14,500 [for] a group of five using the same physician, and $9,500 if it’s a clinical case where there’s a very serious illness and the treating physician believes sequencing could help either diagnostically or therapeutically.”

Actress Glenn Close was the first publicly named female to be sequenced after speaking out about her sister’s struggle with bipolar disorder.  

Flatley sequenced his own DNA because he wanted to put his genome in the public domain and break down barriers. He said it is a personal decision that creates a range of human reaction and emotion. When it comes to privacy, Illumina goes to great lengths to protect the data with bank-level encryption.

“Those of us who want to know have the right to know. Those who don’t shouldn’t come near this,” Flatley notes. “I think sequencing is for the intellectually curious and there’s not huge clinical utility for most healthy people. The real value now is in the future because [once] I have my complete sequence, anytime anything is discovered, I can simply query my genome to see what it needs. It’s this once-in-a-lifetime investment.”  

The groundbreaking leader is also a family man, with four kids and wife, Sarah, who was the VP of finance at Pixar. Soon they will be dividing time between The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe and Park City, Utah, where they are building a second home. Flatley plays golf and runs to stay in shape.

What’s left for a man who’s done it all? Flatley would love to learn to play piano and drive sequencing technology to the point where it is routinely medically useful. “That’s really what it’s all about,” he says. “It makes me keep coming to work every day and working hard to make that a reality.”    JILLIAN RISBERG


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