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Japanese Pharma Taps Oxford Bioinformatics Spinout to Analyze Genomic Data for Drug Development


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai has signed an agreement with University of Oxford spinout Genomics to use the latter's statistical analysis capabilities to analyze large-scale multi-phenotype genetic association data as part of ongoing drug discovery research and development projects.

Genomics, which was founded about a year ago, is currently developing proprietary algorithms and software for tasks such as variant calling and interpretation and performing whole-genome analysis at scale, John Colenutt, Genomics' CEO and director, told GenomeWeb. The company plans to sell a range of products and services based on these methods, he said.

These tools will enable users to analyze large, complex datasets and explore links between genes and disease, Chris Spencer, one of the company's founders, told GenomeWeb. Clinicians could use this information to tailor treatments to patients and to support pharmaceutical companies in making more informed decisions during drug development, thereby reducing unnecessary clinical trials. 

"Our tools are deliberately designed to take advantage of the huge amount of genetic information that is currently out there and will be out there in the future," Spencer said. These tools will enable users to mine these often noisy, heterogeneous datasets and make the best possible inferences about the genetic basis for disease as well as explore the effects of mutations on proteins, genes, and pathways, he said.

The company partnership with Eisai is intended to show the value of genomics analysis for drug research and discovery, Colenutt said. Under the terms of the agreement with the Japanese firm, Genomics is working with the company's new Integrated Human Genomics (IHGx) research unit, which focuses on developing therapies primarily for neurodegeneration, autoimmune diseases, and oncology.

Specifically, Genomics' tools are being used to compare genomes, identify variations that result in the observed disease phenotype, and to try to identify treatments that might have an impact on disease, Colenutt said. The partners are engaged in a number projects as part of the agreement that will cross a number of areas within the drug R&D domain including target selection and validation and drug reposition, he said.

Genomics currently has contracts with other companies, Colenutt said, but it is not disclosing details about those arrangements at this time.

Genomics was founded in 2014 by four scientists from the Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics at Oxford. Last November the company raised about $16 million in a series A funding round that included investments from the IP Group, Lansdowne Partners, Invesco Perpetual, and Woodford Investment Management. In addition, the company has received three Small Business Research Initiative grants from Genomics England, a company owned by the UK Department of Health and tasked with the responsibility of sequencing 100,000 whole genomes of NHS patients by 2017. 

Most recently, Genomics was one of five firms selected to receive a grant from Genomics England under the second phase of its SBRI, which is assessing technologies for genomic sequence data analysis and interpretation. Other companies selected to receive grants from Genomics England as part of that round were Seven Bridges Genomics UK, Oxford Gene Technology, Cogenica, and Omixon. For its part, Genomics received about £2 million (about $4.5 million) under the initiative, which it will use to further develop and commercialize its analytical tools, Colenutt said.

The company plans to eventually offer services for customers who prefer to outsource their analyses as well as a software-as-a-service option for more expert customers who prefer to do the analysis themselves, Colenutt said. The company will also have an offering for pharmaceutical companies that will focus on aggregating both genomic and phenotypic data from multiple databases and repositories and drawing conclusions that could help with the drug development process.

"We imagine the [product release] process to be ongoing," Spencer said. "So [there are] different services and software we hope we'll be rolling out over the time. It is an opportunity to be really broad."

Genomics is not disclosing price points for either its software or services options.