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Illumigen Assembles All-Star Bioinformatics Team to Build Drug Discovery Platform

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Startup Illumigen Biosciences has enlisted the help of some leading bioinformaticists to build a computational analysis platform for its in-house drug discovery efforts.

Founded by researchers from the University of Washington’s Genome Center, Illumigen’s scientific/medical advisory board is chaired by UWGC director Maynard Olson. Phil Green, who authored the Phred/Phrap/Consed integrated base-calling and sequence-assembly system, is also on the advisory board.

The GeneLamp platform will seek out information from a variety of databases that is complementary to three proprietary patient populations to which the company has exclusive access.

“In many ways I think I can say that this company is bioinformatics driven,” said Hugh MacNaught, Illumigen CEO. He said that the first version would be completed by June and will be used to support Illumigen’s proprietary discovery efforts.

The next step, MacNaught said, would be to supply the platform along with new modules to selected collaborators. Although he said the company would consider a shrink-wrapped product as the final stage, he added, “I have not really seen a sustainable business model for bioinformatics, so the jury’s still out on whether we go to that third step or not.”

Others in the industry have also questioned the long-term sustainability of the bioinformatics-vendor model.

“I believe that a new order in IT outsourcing and scientific consulting is about to emerge, and the current publicly held [bioinformatics] firms will be struggling to keep up,” said Eric Neumann, vice president of life science informatics at bioinformatics consultancy 3rd Millennium.

Seattle, Wash.-based Illumigen, which aims to find host-resistance genes through genomics technology, recently closed a $3 million financing round led by Pacific Horizon Ventures, also in Seattle, and is looking to raise another $2 million by the end of February.

The company will first focus on identifying targets for hepatitis C. MacNaught estimated that Illumigen would reach the drug development stage within two years.

— BT

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