Health

DFJ funds new tech to push DNA testing closer to mass adoption

As the cost of DNA sequencing continues to fall, entrepreneurs and investors see an opportunity to bring bioinformatics tools to a mass market.

“Innovations in DNA sequencing have led to an explosion of data,” said Rachel Pike of venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), adding that the developments will have “real and lasting implications” for drug development, as well as the biological production of chemicals and fuels.

Until recently, it has been costly and time-consuming to map the 3 billion units of DNA, known as base-pairs, that make up the human genetic code.

To bring gene sequencing to a mass market, DFJ is stepping up its investment in the space. Today, the storied venture firm funded a company that processes genetic information for the purposes of clinical medicine and research. The Seattle-based startup, “Spiral Genetics,” has raised $3 million to build out tools that help researchers process and analyze genomics data.

“Our CTO was looking at a lot of the bioinformatics programs available that had been created by the open source community,” said CEO Adina Mangubat of the company’s early days in 2009. “We all realized that in a few years there would be a huge need for fast scalable bioinformatics tools.”

The company charges based on the amount of data analyzed. Customers can either purchase ‘pay as you go’ credit packs or sign up for an annual subscription. Mangubat would not disclose any customers but said the cloud-based technology is currently used in myriad use-cases from selective corn breeding to childhood cancer diagnostics.

Mangubat is confident that we are already experiencing the benefits of the explosion of data and gene sequencing technologies. Already, the space is getting flooded with new technologies — Spiral Genetics competes with Knome and DNAnexus.

To push into the medical research field, Spiral Genetics also announced that it has secured a partnership with Omicia, a provider of technology that is used by researchers and clinicians to analyze genomes and prioritize disease-causing variants.

Genomics entrepreneurs and researchers believe the low cost of human DNA sequencing is the most exciting development since the completion of the Human Genome Project.

“It’s no longer business as usual in medicine,” said Dr. Dietrich Stephan, cofounder of Navigenics, in a recent interview. Patients will be “touched and informed by genetics” in the next 2-5 years, he said, and hospitals will increasingly adopt these gene-sequencing technologies to better treat and diagnose disease.


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