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10x Genomics CEO: Why We're at the Beginning of a Biology Revolution

By Keith Speights - Apr 4, 2021 at 7:03AM

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Several trends are converging.

Some have referred to the 21st century as the "century of biology." That's probably not an overstatement. In this video recorded on March 11, 2021, Motley Fool CEO and co-founder Tom Gardner talks with 10x Genomics (TXG 5.26%) CEO and co-founder Serge Saxonov about his take on why we're at the beginning of a biology revolution.

Tom Gardner: We'd really love just the explanation to, let's say the 12-year-old in all of us that maybe hasn't yet gone on that biological journey. I don't know when I first took biology. Maybe it was eighth grade was my first real biology class. But if you could give us some perspective on why, in your opinion, this is the century of biology and why you think we still know so little, and what 10x Genomics does in service of trying to set us up for a great century.

Serge Saxonov: It's funny, as you mentioned, taking biology back in school because when I think back to when I took biology in high school, so much has advanced. So much of it is different now, which is what makes it so exciting.

It's really that progress of our understanding of biology that is on this sort of exponential curve, which is incredibly exciting. The reason it's happening is the conversions of several, multiple trends.

One is just miniaturization, being able to create devices that can measure things at larger and larger scale, with higher and higher resolution and computational capabilities that process the data that comes off. So we can now measure biology better and better, and now we can learn things about biology and that has a compounding effect that because the more you know, the easier it is to learn more.

Now, the challenge though, is that biology is insanely complex. I think it is just consistently we underestimate just how complex it is, and how much more there is to know.

We've learned a lot over the last couple of more decades, but there's so much more to know. The amount we don't know and don't understand about biology is vastly greater than what we actually do know. That really comes down to this complexity.

Just to give you a little bit of the intuition, each human is made of roughly close to 40 trillion individual cells. Each of those cells has this enormously complex genome that's in there that codes for the biology that happens. It expresses all kinds of different molecules that all interact with each other in multiple ways. When things are going well, they're all interacting well and when things are slightly off, that leads ultimately to diseases. It's driving toward that understanding, that's how we will understand disease and ultimately how we will figure out ways of addressing it.

To give you a little bit of analogy. Right now, we're trying to develop therapies to understand diseases, it's like trying to fix a car but you don't know how cars work. The task ahead for us is to understand the fundamentals of biology. How it works, what is it that makes disease different from healthy state?

We know that there is this opportunity in front of us. We know we are still in the early days, but we know that it's going to be happening in the coming decades. Which is why I see, broadly speaking, this is the century of biology where you can imagine these things that still seem like science fiction to many, to most people out there. It will become reality.

Being able to cure cancer sounds grandiose and challenging. But in the next couple of decades, we're going to make incredible progress. Alzheimer's disease, neurodegeneration, we see what's happening with the infectious disease, pandemics. But we are on the threshold of, again, making these challenges a thing of the past.

Now, maybe zeroing a little bit on 10x, what our goal is. Fundamentally, the premise is we need to understand biology much better. To do that, we need to be able to measure the biological systems much better than we have been able to do before.

This is maybe one of those surprising things, just how difficult it is to measure biology at the right resolution and the right scale because it is so complex. Our goal is to build technologies and tools for scientists and ultimately clinicians to be able to measure whether it's you take a sample of blood or you take a slice of tissue and see what is happening in the individual cells, in the individual molecules. That will drive new discoveries which will ultimately drive new cures.

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