Quartz Bio, a newly minted bioinformatics consultancy outfit, is hoping to make its bread and butter by offering exploratory biomarker analysis and data management services to clients in the pharmaceutical industry.
Quartz Bio is a spinoff of Merck Serono — the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA — and was created under the auspices of the company’s Entrepreneur Partnership Program, which was formed in April as part of a broad restructuring at Merck Serono that included the closure of its Geneva headquarters. The company formed the program to create new companies focused on continuing the activities that originated at Merck Serono and "reducing the impact on employment" due to the restructuring.
The new company — the second spinout to be formed under the program — will be headed by Jérôme Wojcik, the director of bioinformatics at Merck Serono. Wojcik will lead a team of three bioinformaticians who were members of the clinical bioinformatics team in Merck Serono’s Geneva office.
Wojcik told BioInform that he will stay in his current post at Merck Serono until the end of October. He’ll then take the helm at Quartz when the company officially opens its doors on the first of November.
The firm believes its expertise and services will appeal to pharma companies looking to identify patients who are most responsive to specific treatments in their drug development projects.
“An increasing number of pharmaceutical companies are integrating a stratified medicine approach in their drug development process in order to predict how patients will respond to a specific therapy,” Wojcik said in a statement. “Biomarker analyses are at the heart of stratified medicine and we believe that Quartz Bio’s flexible and highly specialized services will [add] value to pharmaceutical companies for the development of new drugs.”
Quartz’s researchers use a range of statistical techniques to locate predictive biomarkers in 'omics datasets from microarrays, flow cytometry, and other platforms, Wojcik told BioInform.
“We always start with a data consistency check, quality control, look for technological biases, and then … depending on the objective of the analysis … we apply a full panel of exploratory techniques [such as] clustering analysis, principal component analysis,” and other statistical tests, he explained.
Quartz will operate under a fee-for-service business model. Pricing will be determined on a per-project basis and will be based on Wojcik's “personal estimation of the workload” gleaned from years of experience at Merck.
Initially, Quartz will target clients in Europe, which should be a strong market for the firm since its closest competitor, Almac, primarily offers services to customers in the US market, according to Wojcik.
Almac launched its bioinformatics consultancy in 2011 and offers a range of bioinformatics and biostatistics solutions to help pharma, biotechnology, and diagnostics companies with biomarker discovery and development, exploratory analysis, mechanistic and functional analysis, traditional and next-generation sequencing data analysis, biostatistics, and data integration (BI 2/25/2011).
This year, Almac expanded its offering to include bioinformatics services for next-generation sequencing, including study design, sample processing, and analysis for DNA and RNA samples (BI 2/3/2012).
Besides Almac, there are several smaller companies that offer similar services to US-based clients but Wojcik believes Quartz is among the first to offer an independent biomarker data-analysis service in Europe.
“It’s a niche market but [it is] in the area of personalized medicine, which is a growing market,” he pointed out. “I think we really have an opportunity to be profitable.”
Besides, “we are a small company so we don’t need a big market to be profitable,” he added.
Wojcik also noted that although Quartz spun off from Merck Serono, it is an independent entity and did not receive any investment from its parent company. However, Merck Serono does have a master service agreement with the company and will be its first customer, he said.
In fact, Merck Serono has said that it intends to use services provided by Quartz Bio and is planning work orders amounting to about €2 million ($2.5 million) over the next two or three years.
Quartz Bio is housed in the Blue Box offices of Fongit, a nonprofit startup accelerator located in Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva, and supported by the state of Geneva.
The company isn’t hiring at present but Wojcik plans to add at least one employee — likely another bioinformatician — to the team next year.