Science & Technology



Former President Obama, Bill Gates headline Illumina's Genomics Forum next week in San Diego

Mike Freeman, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

Tailoring healthcare to an individual's genetics has long held the promise of transforming medicine. Next week, San Diego's Illumina hosts a check-up on the science and policy around precision health — with the help of some heavyweight speakers.

Former President Barack Obama headlines the inaugural in-person Illumina Genomics Forum, slated to start next Wednesday and run through Oct. 1 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

Microsoft co-founder and health innovation philanthropist Bill Gates; tennis legend and genetic testing advocate Chris Evert; former U.S. Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb; Nobel Laureate Frances Arnold; UnitedHealth Group Chief Executive Sir Andrew Witty; and 23&me co-founder Anne Wojcicki also will be among those taking the stage during the four-day event.

Some of these speakers were easier to book than others. Gottlieb and Arnold are members of Illumina's board of directors. The company is the top maker of advanced genomic sequencing hardware, software and chemistry.

But President Obama "chooses where he would and wouldn't like to speak," said Kathryne Reeves, chief marketing officer for Illumina. "When they vetted us, we were able to provide good information about the role we play in broadening access to healthcare."

The former president also is scheduled to speak at the L'ATTITUDE Latino business conference in San Diego this Sunday.

"I don't know if Barack Obama has a point of view on genomics," said Reeves. "What I do know is he has a very strong and influential point of view on health policy. We are excited to have him."

About 2,500 people are expected to attend the forum over the four days. They include research outfits such as the Broad Institute and Scripps Research Translational Institute, healthcare providers such as the Mayo Clinic and insurance payers such as UnitedHealth.


More than 20 different cancer organizations are represented, including the American Cancer Society and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The event is meant for Illumina customers and is not open to the public.

Illumina is expected to update its gene sequencing technology roadmap as part of the conference in fields where genomics improves standard of care, including oncology, reproductive health, and rare and infectious diseases.

Gates is expected to focus on innovation and the role of genomics in fighting off the next global pandemic. He will participate in the event over three days.

"The genesis of his talk will be around how genomics is supporting and accelerating global health," said Jerry Steele, director of content for Illumina. "Global health is the temple of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."

Evert, who has won 18 major championships, has been advocating for genetic testing since her sister died of ovarian cancer in 2020. Genetic tests uncovered an inherited gene mutation that increased the risk in the family. Evert discovered she also had cancer. It was detected early, and her prognosis is good.

"Her story will be extremely powerful and worthy of continued coverage," said Reeves. "Stories like this help break down barriers outside of the industry, and I think people sitting in the room, our customers, will just again get another really remarkable opportunity to see that what they do matters so much."

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