Eureka Genomics has bagged a $750,000, two year Phase II Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate to build bioinformatics pipelines for detecting rare variants of Bacillus anthracis, the anthrax pathogen.
The privately held company received the funds after completing a six-month DHS Phase I contract worth $100,000.
Eureka expects to complete the second phase by June 2013.
During the first phase of the project, Eureka proved it could use its bioinformatics tools to distinguish one rare strain of B. anthracis from another, Didier Perez, Eureka's chief operating officer and company co-founder, told BioInform.
Eureka's proprietary technology is based on IP it licensed from the University of Houston (BI 1/11/2008). The company is using this technology as the foundation from which to build anthrax-specific pipelines that can identify the variants in the species' genome and then test them in a small sample set.
In phase II, Eureka plans to develop a "full detection [platform] for minority [or rare] variants of anthrax," Perez said
Viacheslav Fofanov, Eureka's director of bioinformatics, said in a statement that the DHS-funded project could lead to improvements in the "ability to fingerprint a sample and, as a consequence, provide vital information for the investigation and prosecution of bioterrorism attacks or attempts."
While the company doesn't plan to commercialize the pipelines it develops for DHS, it sees an opportunity to use its approach to detect rare variants in bacterial and viral populations that are associated with host-pathogen interactions.
In this manner, it hopes to find "new ways to diagnose and treat infections caused by microorganisms such as human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis C, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis" as well as cancers, Fofanov said.
Eureka hopes to develop these applications in a third round of funding beginning with pipelines for HIV and cancer, Perez said.
The Hercules, Calif.-based firm is currently partnering with Baylor Research Institute, the research arm of the Baylor Health Care System, to identify pathogens associated with colorectal cancer and preterm birth.
Specifically, the partners are running tests to confirm suspicions that John Cunningham virus — which causes progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy and other disease in cases of immunodeficiency — is involved in colorectal cancer (BI 2/25/2011).
They are also running similar tests to identify genes linked to preterm birth, Perez said.
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