Sony and Personalized Medicine

Sony's recent joint venture with a personal genomics company reflects a growing push by the company into healthcare.

Jan 31, 2014 at 4:46PM

On January 23rd, Sony (NYSE:SNE) announced in a short press release that it intends to form a joint venture with DNA analysis company Illumina and Sony's majority owned M3. The goal of the partnership will be to start a personal genomics "platform business" in Japan. This will serve to mine a person's DNA along with data from an Electronic Health Record (EHR) and other sources to make inferences about human health.

Tadashi Saito, CEO of Sony, stated "At Sony, we are positioning the medical business as one of our key growth pillars." Sony has already dipped its toe into the health care waters through a subsidiary Sony Biotechnology, that manufactures flow cytometry equipment, which examines blood samples for cancer and other maladies.

Why Personalized Medicine Now?
So why is Sony making a play in this area now? Aren't they gearing up for 4K TV sets and growing the PS4? Didn't their films just get nominated for 15 Oscars?

The reason is the data. It's all about the data. Increasingly valuable data.

Two factors have converged to make this new business of personalized medicine possible. First, the cost of sequencing one's DNA has plummeted from $15 million 10 years ago to less than $10,000 now for a full sequence, and even $99 for a partial sequencing. Second -- thank you Moore's Law -- computers are powerful enough now to crunch the data easily. Your entire genome, everything that makes you "you," is about 2.7 GB of data. To put that into context, the data that built you is less data than is included on a DVD of "The Hangover." So it's now cheap to get the data from DNA sequencing, and cheaper and easier to process it.

Why The Data Is So Valuable
Think for a moment about Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). What makes Facebook worth $150 billion as I write this? Is it their servers? Their network? That cool blue color? Nope. What makes Facebook valuable are your data, and its ability to make inferences about you. Take a $150 billion market cap, divide it by 1.2 billion users, and each Facebook user's data is, in theory, worth about $125.

That Facebook data on your page is unverified. You provide it. No one checks to make sure your selfie with Barry Manilow is real. But you (and the connective data about your network friends)  is still an "asset" that is valuable to Facebook.

Genomic data is as personal as it gets, and it is real. It's verified by testing. And it can tell you some amazing things. For instance, I had my genome sequenced recently, mainly because I'm adopted and wanted some sort of family "history." It used to be when the doctor asked "Do you have a family history of cancer?" I would have no answer. I'd tell him he might as well put down his own family history. You never know.

Facebook's data on you is essentially gossip. Your genome is fact, and your data, when crunched against the genetic data of others is potentially very, very valuable. As are the conclusions that can be reached by all that data crunching.

Sony's Future In Healthcare
Itaru Tanimura, the head of Sony's M3, which is part of this push into personal genomics, stated last week "The Internet had a major impact on our lives. Gene diagnosis and treatment will potentially have the same or even greater influence. The current status of the human genome industry is comparable to the Internet in the early 1990's, when companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook had yet to emerge." The new Sony company combining the efforts of Illumina and M3 is called P5. Sony is clearly serious about claiming a large share of the "Internet of the body."

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Ron Galloway has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and Illumina. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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