NEW YORK, Oct 30 - DeCode Genetics has piled up a mountain of data. Not only does it have legal access to the health records for the entire nation of Iceland, it has collected DNA from over 40,000 of the country’s inhabitants and genotyped over 33,000, according to CEO and founder Kari Stefansson.
And this means the small-population genetics company is going to have to make a huge leap forward in the informatics realm.
“ The big challenge of the future will be the development of knowledge from the data that already exists rather than the development of new data,” said Stefansson by phone from his office in Reykjavik, Iceland. “I’ll bet you any amount of money that over the next five to 10 years, our company will be much more an informatics company than a biology company.”
In the next year, Stefansson said DeCode plans to double its total informatics staff from about 100 people to 200. It also plans to begin marketing its informatics systems to outside customers and expects to announce an agreement to provide software to a customer within the next couple of months, he said.
Meanwhile, DeCode informatics experts are building a searchable database of Iceland’s health records. They have already finished a database for the genetic information and hope to do data mining by cross-referencing the two.
To genotype the population, Decode has been using its stable of 3700s purchased from Applied Biosystems. It has also has put together systems for sample handling, connecting samples with data, and finding genes in the sequences.
Not surprisingly, Stefansson asserted his company’s methodology of developing drug targets by using population genetics and isolating SNPs involved in different diseases is more likely to produce reliable drug targets than other methods, such as gene expression profiling of healthy and diseased tissue.
While other companies are able to develop more drug targets through expression profiling, Stefansson said pharmaceutical companies have no way of knowing which of these targets are actually caused by the disease being studied. Hence, it is harder to determine which targets to move into development. By scoring SNPs, Stefansson said his company is able to find the definitive sources for disease pathways.
Since launching this massive population genetics effort in 1996, the company has been using what Stefansson called its “roll your own” informatics software rather than software from any outside companies. It will continue to do so in the future, said Stefansson.
“We have without any question the best informatics department in any genetics company in the world. We are not going to be outsourcing that,” Stefansson said.