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Bioinformatics Services Provider NextGen Diagnostics Rebrands as Aperiomics


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Virginia-based bioinformatics services vendor NextGen Diagnostics has rebranded and relaunched itself as Aperiomics.

The newly renamed company, which operates out of office space at George Washington University in Ashburn, Va., officially set up shop last October. It was founded by Keith Crandall, who is the company's president; Evan Johnson, the chief technology officer; and Eduardo Castro-Nallar, who is the firm's chief science officer. In March this year, Crystal Icenhour joined the company in the role of CEO, bringing the company to its current headcount of four employees.

Icenhour told BioInform this week that her firm opted to change its name because it wanted a more unique moniker, one that would set it apart from other companies that already use some variation of the words "next-generation sequencing" in their names. Furthermore, "we couldn't protect [NextGen Diagnostics] with any sort of a trademark" since the words next-gen have become rather ubiquitous terms "so we wanted to get something that was [both] unique and would be protectable from a trade marking standpoint." So, it chose the name Aperiomics — a portmanteau of the words aperio, which means "to reveal" in Latin, and omics — which it believes is both distinctive and a better descriptor of the company's business.

The company provides an informatics pipeline for detecting pathogens in animal and human samples, which it uses to provide services to customers in markets such as animal screening, agricultural testing, and human diagnostics. Customers send the firm samples they want sequenced and analyzed for infection — depending on the host, these could be blood, tissue, or stool samples. An unnamed laboratory partner handles the sequencing step and returns the data to Aperiomics, where the sequences are analyzed using a proprietary informatics pipeline that tests for pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, extracting relevant information from the tens of thousands to up to millions of data points that sequencing instruments generate, according to Icenhour.

Basically, "we give a broad look at what is in the sample" and leave the interpretation of the results to the customer, she told BioInform. For example, "if we [are] looking at a human sample, we would look for everything non-human in the sample … then out of the non-human items, we would determine which of those are pathogenic or potentially pathogenic." Those findings would be returned to the client, who can then interpret the results "in a way that's meaningful to their particular setting."

Aperiomics' underlying technology is based on collaborative research done by all three co-founders at their respective institutions. In addition to his role as president, Crandall is the director of computational biology at GWU. He took on the role at the university in the summer of 2012. Castro-Nallar is wrapping up a biological sciences doctoral program also at GWU. Johnson is an assistant professor of medicine, biostatistics, and bioinformatics at Boston University School of Medicine. Although the pipeline is derived from its founders' research, the company did not formally license specific technology from either university.

Aperiomics can customize its pipeline to provide whatever detection services customers need, Icenhour said. For instance, in one project involving a viral infection in salmon — that sample came from a reference lab in Chile — rather than use all the data stored in public databases maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the company put together a bespoke database of salmon pathogens to make searching for the infection source much faster and more cost effective than querying all possible databases, Icenhour said. That repository is now available as a resource in Aperiomics' pipeline.

However, it has put together three modules that it routinely uses in its interactions with customers. These are modules for detecting known and unknown pathogens and for metagenomics analysis. The company recently received a $150,000 small business innovation research grant from the National Science Foundation that it is using to build out these modules, and it has plans to eventually make all three part of a single software solution which it will market, most likely, alongside its services offering, Icenhour said. It's also likely that the company will pair its software — which is probably some three to five years away from being brought to market — with a sequencing instrument, she said.

Pricing for Aperiomics' services is determined on a case-by-case basis, which in part depends on how many samples are being analyzed at a time and also the complexity of the analysis. The same applies to turnaround times, which can range from two days to up to two months, Icenhour said. Most of the company's current customers are reference laboratories — similar to the lab that needed the salmon sample analyzed — who have samples that they need analyzed but lack access to the requisite sequencing and analysis capabilities.

While some labs can afford to install sequencers and have the ability to use the plethora of open-source NGS analysis tools themselves, Aperiomics' focus is on users who may not have the resources to support in-house bioinformatics staff and sequencing instruments, both of which can be expensive, Icenhour noted.

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