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John West

College positions:
Fellow Commoner
Entrepreneurship, Biotechnology, Oncology
Solexa Ltd / Illumina Inc, Personalis, Inc (retired)
Contact details:

John West

CEO, now retired, of one of the most successful spinout companies from Cambridge: Solexa. It is now the DNA sequencing technology of Illumina, broadly used in the Covid pandemic, prenatal testing, and cancer.

John’s career has leveraged both engineering and molecular technologies to enable advances in science and medicine. Beginning with a childhood interest in astronomy, he concentrated originally in physics, and particularly optics. As an undergraduate at MIT, he used laser instrumentation to study the Alcator controlled nuclear fusion experiment. After graduation, he switched to the new field of DNA sequencing, commercializing one of the first automated instruments in 1987. Growing business responsibilities led him to complete an executive MBA at Wharton and his startup company was awarded a contract by the Human Genome Project in 1988, its first year. By 2001, he moved to head the (then) world leading $700M DNA sequencing business, at Applied Biosystems in California.

In 2004, he became CEO of a small 1998 spinout company from Cambridge University: Solexa. He arranged its Nasdaq listing in 2005, and an all-stock merger with Illumina in 2007. Over 20 years, the Solexa technology advanced DNA sequencing by more than a factor of a million, and Illumina reached annual revenue over $4 billion with a peak market capitalization over $80 billion.

John founded Personalis in 2011, led its 2019 Nasdaq IPO and retired in 2022. Personalis sequenced over 200,000 human genomes commercially and invented several advanced cancer tests. As an example, it provides specialized DNA sequencing for Moderna’s effort to develop personalized cancer vaccines.

John, and his wife of 42 years, Judy, now divide the year between Cupertino, California and a second home facing on Newnham College.

John is an entrepreneurship mentor at the Judge Business School, Cambridge.

At Clare Hall, John is accompanied by his wife, Judith West, Economics Professor at DeAnza Community College, Cupertino, California

Select publications

• “Classical Energy Confinement in Alcator” 1979 (magnetically confined nuclear fusion experiment, part of the technology now being commercialized by Commonwealth Fusion Systems, link below).
• “Press Brake Having Spring-back Compensating Adaptive Control” US Patent 4,408,471 (1983). Based on my 1980 MIT Master’s Thesis, licensed and used commercially for the full life of the patent.
• “Automated (DNA) sequence reading and analysis” Nucleic Acids Research (1988)
• “Asymetrically Split Charge Coupled Device” US Patent 5,986,267 (1999). This was the basis for a family of semiconductor optical sensor arrays – assigned to Princeton Instruments, who still offer scientific cameras using this family.
• “Accurate whole human genome sequencing using reversible terminator chemistry” Nature (2008)
• S-1 registration statement for Personalis $150M IPO June 19, 2019
• “Personalized Genetic Testing” US Patent 10,450,611 (2019)
• “Method and systems for genetic analysis” US patent 11,591,653 (2023)

Select awards

• First named family of four to have our genomes sequenced by Illumina, 2009-10.
• Personalis’ test for cancer residual disease ranked #1 on The Scientist’s Top 10 Innovations of 2022
• Visiting distinguished scholar, Christ’s College, Easter Term 2024.

Further links