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SNPs Souped-up Mass Spec Gives Edge to Peoples Genetics


Around Peoples Genetics, Barry Karger is known as the man behind the machine. That machine happens to be what the company believes will ensure its place in the industry: the ultra-sensitive High-Throughput Mutational Spectrometer, a tweaked mass spec co-developed with SpectruMedix that allows for SNP-discovery studies on a grand scale.

Peoples Genetics, founded two years ago in Woburn, Mass., relies on a patented form of capillary electrophoresis pioneered by Karger, who began working in the area for the Human Genome Project. “We spent the first year and a half really focusing on scaling the technology and on development of the instrumentation itself,” says COO KEVIN MOLLOY, 32.

Now, the company is ready to go public and is working to publish papers that will represent “the largest populations studied up to this date,” says Karger, 63. The company is working on pooled experiments including close to 100,000 people.

Unlike most SNP-discovery firms, Peoples Genetics skips the early round of identifying a SNP in a small group of samples. “We do massive-scale discovery and quantitation experiments,” Molloy says, so in theory, they’re more likely to find a disease-related SNP than companies relying on smaller studies.

“These common complex diseases are multigenic, but we overlay on top of that our expectation that each one of those genes would be multi-allelic,” Molloy says. “You’re not looking at one event in the genome, or even tens of events, but hundreds of events in the genome.”

“SNPs can be useful in a variety of ways,” Karger adds. “But to be able to make definitive calls … one needs to dive much deeper than SNPs.” He regards wildly different results in published SNP-study papers as evidence that people aren’t yet using big enough populations for the studies. “You need large populations to be able to make statistically meaningful calls.”

The 20-person company has a two-pronged business model, planning to sell access to sample libraries and platform technology to pay the early bills, with the long-term goal of sustainability from internal candidate gene experiments.

— Meredith Salisbury


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