For the last decade, Colin Dykes has been setting up and running genomics shops. He began by devising Glaxo’s genomics program in 1993, and in 1998 joined Variagenics, where he guided the company over the last four years as vice president of research. Now, the Northern Ireland native has relocated to Madison, Wis., where he assumes the role of CSO at optical mapping company OpGen.
Dykes met David Schwartz, an academic founder of OpGen, while he was at Variagenics. “So when I was contacted about this opportunity” — after he left Variagenics as a result of a change in strategic focus — “I knew a lot about optical mapping,” he says. The technology relies on immobilizing single molecules of DNA on a substrate to visualize them.
According to Dykes, 49, the company has already sold several maps to academic and commercial labs, primarily for microbial and plant genome sequencing. The technology is particularly conducive to finding blocks of SNPs, an area with which Dykes is quite familiar. “It’s become apparent that haplotypes are much more powerful than looking at SNPs,” he says. “OpGen is looking for longer-scale haplotypes across large areas of the chromosome.”
Other applications of the technology lie in some of today’s hot spots. “This method also has the potential to be used for high-throughput sequencing,” Dykes says, adding that it’s one of only a couple of technologies that can look at single DNA molecules to study an entire genome. Also, the optical mapping concept might be applied to typing pathogens.
Oncology studies are another angle Dykes is pursuing for the company. In theory, a doctor could send a tumor sample to OpGen, which would identify the DNA rearrangements that have occurred to determine the progress of the tumor as well as to recommend a course of therapy. The work to establish correlations between tumor state and drug response is something OpGen will delve into next year, Dykes says.
— Meredith Salisbury