MedGenome to fund its own research on DNA sequencing, precision medicine
New Delhi: Sequoia-backed MedGenome, a start-up that conducts genomics-driven research for large pharmaceutical companies, is planning to fund its own research in the area of DNA sequencing and precision medicine, with an aim to licence the findings to bio-technology firms and drug makers, a top executive said.
Launched in 2013, San Francisco- and Bengaluru-based MedGenome Labs Pvt. Ltd has a network of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) laboratories in India, Singapore and the US. In August, it raised $30 million from Sequoia and Brussels-based Sofina SA.
“Currently, a lot of it (research) is done on project basis, but we are also creating our own IP (intellectual property), so that in two-three years’ time we can license some of the knowledge,” said Sam Santhosh, founder and chairman, MedGenome. Its research is in four main areas: cancer immunotherapy, inherited diseases, diabetes and ophthalmology.
About 70% of the company’s revenue is earned from project-based research mainly for US-based pharmaceutical clients, while the rest is from consumer diagnostic tests in Asia. Its labs combine state-of-the-art testing equipments and powerful computers to perform DNA sequencing that is used for a wide variety of purposes such as bio-marker discovery, drug research and new market discovery.
Santhosh said innovations over the last few years in healthcare technologies and big data has made DNA sequencing more affordable and useful. In simple terms, DNA sequencing is accurate mapping of the constituents of DNA, the building blocks of cells, that delivers actionable information on possible causes of a disease, aiding treatment.
The technique has allowed drug makers to come up with medicines that work on a select group of individuals based on similar genetic makeup, as against generic drugs used with little success so far. The emerging approach, know as precision medicine, takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.
“Generic medicines were done in the earlier world when we did not have genetic information. Only in the last three-four years it became practical to sequence DNA and patients, and get the new information that gave us information to develop better, more proper drugs,” Santhosh said.
Though still nascent in India, precision medicine is being practiced in areas like oncology, cardiology and neurology, and to a relatively large extent in cancer treatment. With the help of DNA sequencing, healthcare practitioners are using the new technique called cancer immunotherapy to treat cancer.
Cancer immunotherapy is a biological therapy where the patient’s genes are altered to help his or her immune system fight cancer cells. In 2013, the prestigious Science Magazine termed recent research in cancer immunotherapy as breakthrough of the year in healthcare.
“These are the new technologies enabling people to figure out how they can get their immune system to fight cancer itself… It is the one of the most attractive areas attracting both investment as well as opportunities,” Santhosh explained.
The crux of MedGenome’s effort rests on data and DNA profiles of its samples.
Santhosh, who has spent over two decades in San Francisco as an IT entrepreneur, set up MedGenome’s network of labs in India and South Asia. “Indian population is very useful for this research because of the complexity of genetic diseases in general… Moreover the country has many groups of people who did not breed outside in the last 2000 years and have remained largely closed groups, which allows for much better study of diseases.” Santhosh said. The company has profiled 75,000 individuals in India already, he added.