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Startup Genia Sees Diagnostic Potential for Nanopore Sequencing Platform

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Genia, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup, is developing a semiconductor-based nanopore sequencing platform that it believes will show promise for molecular diagnostic applications.

Stefan Roever, CEO and founder of the company, told GenomeWeb Daily News this week that the company has an alpha version of its single-molecule platform in hand and is currently optimizing the biochemistry for a beta system.

Roever declined to provide a commercialization timeline for the system or details regarding expected read length or accuracy, but noted that he believes the platform will be able to sequence genomes at a cost "one order of magnitude less" than other single-molecule systems such as the Pacific Biosciences RS.

Describing the system as a "single-molecule electrical detection sequencing platform," Roever said the company expects it to be useful for targeted resequencing and molecular diagnostics that involve both human genomics and viral or bacterial DNA.

"A lot of the molecular diagnostics applications will profit greatly from the greater accuracy and sensitivity of a single-molecule platform — less sample prep, cost, the ability to distribute because the machine will be smaller," Roever said.

The 15-person firm has been working quietly to develop its underlying platform since it was founded in 2009. Roever said the firm initially raised about half a million dollars from angel investors and then "did a big institutional round with a strategic investor" last April.

A company spokesperson said that the investor was Life Technologies, but the amount of its investment has not been disclosed. Life Tech declined to comment for this article.

Roever said the company currently has enough cash to develop "a working chip, plus the basics of the biochemistry," but plans to raise a Series B round in the range of "several tens of millions of dollars" in order to optimize the biochemistry for the system.

The core of the company's management team — Roger Chen, CTO; Randy Davis, VP of R&D; and Pratima Rao, VP of marketing — came from analog semiconductor developer Maxim Integrated Products. Roever, meantime, was co-founder and CEO of software firm Brokat Technologies before joining Genia.

Roever noted that the management team's semiconductor roots are the key to its sequencing approach.

"We took state-of-the-art semiconductor technology in these very sensitive analog-to-digital applications, where you're looking for very small currents and trying to convert that to digital signal, and we applied that technology to a biological problem," he said.

While a number of other firms are developing nanopore sequencing systems, including Oxford Nanopore, Nabsys, and NobleGen, Roever said that Genia's focus on the underlying chip platform sets it apart from competitors.

"We focused on operationalizing the nanopores," he said. "We essentially developed a way to create what are effectively lipid bilayer nanopore complexes, so the biological nanopore is a transmembrane protein that's suspended in a lipid bilayer."

The company has developed a way to "automatically set up whole arrays of [the nanopores] on the surface of a semiconductor chip and integrated circuit," ultimately making a "very complicated" process "massively scalable."

So far, the company has proof-of-concept that it can use its system to sequence DNA, "but we have not run any particularly long strands there," Roever said.

"We have a working platform and chip, and we have the basic building blocks on the biochemistry side. The next step is to take those and assemble them into a robust chemistry," he said. "That's where the focus is going to be and there's a significant amount of work still to be done there."

— Edward Winnick contributed reporting to this article.