Call Jon Morris backwards, and he’d probably take it as a compliment. The president and CEO of GenMatics, a biomedical informatics company focusing on data integration, is making a career of sorts by going against the grain.
“We’re not what you’d think of as a traditional bioinformatics company,” Morris says. “We’re working from the clinical side back into pathways.”
There seems to be nothing sacred about any particular method, so backwards could very well be the way to go. “We’re approaching a set of problems that many in the industry acknowledge are problems but haven’t had a solution for how to deal with them,” Morris says. GenMatics, which is in the process of changing its name to ProSanos (literally, “moving to health”), looks at the target issue as one relying heavily on an understanding of the disease.
“What many others do is … run chips and expression devices against a tissue sample to say, ‘Here are the 5,000 genes that are upregulated or downregulated in that tissue sample,’” Morris says. “But they haven’t mapped how the disease itself looks to see how the genes make any difference at all at that point in time.” With its proprietary models of disease process — snapshots of a particular disease over time — GenMatics suggests a different perspective for scientists. “We provide the framework or infrastructure to understand that disease,” he says.
Perhaps the backward approach borrows from his own life — Morris, 35, wound up in bioinformatics after studying to be a pediatric surgeon at Stanford. As a doctor, he says, “you measure your success one patient at a time.” After working with building software for electronic medical records vendors and being a Fortune-300 chief medical officer, Morris re-entered patient treatment from another angle. In November 2000, he and Michael Liebman co-founded GenMatics, which Morris calls “a next-generation software company.” It’s a chance to “have an impact on significantly more patients than I ever would’ve touched in a surgery environment,” he says.
Though the company is still in the early start-up stages, Morris believes its future is promising. What about it makes him so sure? “Because there’s the mystique,” he jokes.
— Meredith Salisbury