With up to $4 million in new venture capital funding, microbial genomics company Integrated Genomics of Chicago told BioArray News that it plans to expand its business in the area of metabolic engineering, and to produce microbial microarrays for industrial applications.
The funding comes from one of the company’s existing investors, who asked this publication not to disclose its name. In 2000, Integrated Genomics received funding from Deutsche Effecten- und Wechsel-Beteiligungsgesellschaft (DEWB) in Jena, Germany, a venture capital company that is majority-owned by JenOptik, a German manufacturing concern.
Integrated Genomics was founded in 1997 by researchers working with Robert Haselkorn, a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at the University of Chicago, and started out as a high-throughput sequencing company focusing on microbes.
So far, Integrated Genomics’ revenues have come from genomic services such as genome sequence analysis, biocomputing services, and the licensing of its database of microbial genomes, called Ergo.
Today, the Ergo database contains genome sequences and functional annotations from almost 700 different organisms, about three quarters of them microbial, both from the company’s in-house work and publicly available data, the company said. The database is able to place genes or proteins in the context of metabolic pathways, and includes a number of genomes that are proprietary to the company. In addition, ERGO allows users to import gene expression data and interpret it in terms of pathways, according to Kathe Andrews-Cramer, the company’s director for business development.
Based on this foundation, Integrated plans to expand its business in the area of microbial engineering, she said. The company plans to generate and optimize microbial production strains, both as a service and to license out strains it generates in-house. This will involve the use of custom-made microbial microarrays.
In addition, the company wants to sell microbial microarrays later this year for analyzing microbial production processes of proteins or chemicals. Such arrays would be typically used to optimize fermentation conditions, or to control the quality of a production process, she said.
“We are working on finding a mechanism to launch those chips out into the marketplace,” she said, and the company is currently in discussions with several potential manufacturers who might also sell the arrays. Integrated would provide the content for these arrays, which would include off-the-shelf arrays for common production organisms such as Pichia pastoris and Aspergillus niger, but also custom arrays.
The company is also contemplating a “dairy chip,” covering Lactobacillus and maybe other organisms for quality control in the dairy industry, she said. The arrays are likely to be spotted whole-genome arrays but could also include multi-organism arrays.
In the past, Integrated designed and produced microbial arrays as part of research service contracts but has since outsourced the array production. Also, it no longer offers this service and will move the employees involved in it over to the new microarray business. “We have been in microarrays, but we are actually going to do it a lot better and much more focused,” Andrews-Cramer said.
The market for microbial microarrays, she said, is fragmented. “Everybody works on different bacteria, so with the exception of some key industries, where certain microorganisms are used very heavily, there is really quite a fragmented industry. Even though it’s a large market, and it’s projected to get even bigger, we had to take a very close look a what the needs were. Through our partner, we will be able to provide microbial microarrays [including custom arrays] to any of our customers.”
Other companies, including NimbleGen and Affymetrix, are already providing microbial microarrays, “but they tend to be spotty,” said Andrews-Cramer. While the competition is largely focusing on arrays for discovery research or diagnostic arrays for pathogens, she said, Integrated Genomics will concentrate on arrays for production R&D.
“Since we have excellent proprietary tools for design of the arrays, it seems like a good business to be in,” she said.
In addition, Integrated is currently talking to companies that offer array analysis software in order to make ERGO’s ability to associate expression data with pathways more broadly available, she said.
At present, the company has about 30 employees, about two thirds of whom work on computational tasks like database management. Integrated is currently hiring “a number of key positions” for both its wet lab and computational area.