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Population Genomics Control

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Ariel Darvasi, president and CSO of Jerusalem-based IDGene, readily acknowledges that he is scientist first, businessman second. So there’s more than the economy to blame for his three-year-old population genomics company’s complete lack of revenues. “We should have put more emphasis on business development. My focus was to get the science right,” Darvasi says.

Nevertheless, in late November, with a technology platform and 14,000 tissue samples finally in place, Darvasi put on his sales hat and headed to the States. After speaking at an industry meeting in Boston, he headed to New York to talk partnerships.

Darvasi, who spent two years as associate director of human genetics and head of statistical genetics at SmithKline Beecham in the UK, says pharma and biotech companies could benefit from IDGene’s approach — a combination of genetic statistics, DNA pooling, and homogeneous sample collection — to identify links between diseases and genes and to identify or validate drug targets.

A study slated for publication in the December issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics shows how the IDGene team, with colleagues from several Israeli research institutes and Stanford, found a “highly significant association” between schizophrenia and a haplotype of the catechol-O-methyltransferase gene. The study, which looked at samples taken from about 1,000 Ashkenazi Jews, is the largest case-control study performed to date in schizophrenia, according to the researchers.

The homogeneous Ashkenazis account for the “population” in IDGene’s “population genomics.” The company has collected 14,000 tissue samples from the Eastern European descendants, including 5,000 healthy controls, from within a 10-mile radius of Tel Aviv.

Darvasi notes that IDGene’s strong statistical genetics approach is key. “Knowing how to look at and interpret data is so important. It’s amazing how easily a genotyping error can produce a false positive. If your a priori chance of identifying something is low, then when you do identify something, the chances it’s correct are low.”

Of course, when it comes to his chances of snagging a deal with pharma right now, Darvasi is probably better off ignoring statistics.

— Adrienne Burke

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