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Helix Reduces Workforce, Closes Offices Amid Strategic Shift

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Illumina-backed startup Helix, which launched a genomics app marketplace two years ago, has laid off an undisclosed number of employees and is closing two of its offices, GenomeWeb has learned.

Justin Kao, Helix cofounder and senior VP of business development and partnerships, confirmed that the company has reduced its staff but declined to say how many employees had been affected. The company has also decided to close its Denver and San Francisco offices, he said, but will still maintain its CLIA-certified lab in San Diego and its headquarters in San Carlos, California.

The layoffs come amid a strategic decision at the company to shift focus away from selling apps to consumers online that interpreted their exome sequencing data in the context of ancestry, health, wellness, and entertainment and towards partnerships for population genomics. The company announced in late April that it would now focus on providing turnkey sequencing solutions and services to health systems, payors, and researchers interested in population health genomics.

"Some of those reductions happened voluntarily ahead of our strategic announcement, as team members looked for long-term opportunities that were better aligned with their experience and interest," said Kao.

Illumina, one of the main investors in Helix, said during its Q1 earnings call that Helix would be deconsolidated and that Illumina would no longer hold equity in the company or participate in its board. In addition, Marc Stapley, former executive VP of strategy and corporate development at Illumina, took over the reins at Helix, replacing Robin Thurston as CEO.  

Kao said that although Helix is operating with a leaner team, it has retained scientific, engineering, and business development experts and has "plenty of capital and runway" to execute on the company's new strategic focus.

Helix has already partnered with the Renown Institute for Health and Innovation to sequence participants of the Healthy Nevada Project, within which researchers are investigating the health determinants of the local population in northern Nevada and building a repository of the clinical, genetic, environmental, and socioeconomic data to fuel that research.

The company also recently announced a new partnership with Central Florida-based health system AdventHealth to sequence 10,000 participants in a study of how genomic health risk information can impact care.

Kao added that despite the changes at the company, Helix's mission "to empower every person to improve their life through DNA" will remain unchanged.