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Omicia to Use New Funds to Develop Diagnostic Pipeline for Opal, Improve Interpretation Abilities

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Omicia plans to use the proceeds from a recent $6.8 million Series A financing to continue developing an informatics workflow that would help diagnostic laboratories develop and launch genomics-based tests.

Charlene Son Rigby, the company's vice president of products, told BioInform that the company is working on a standardized workflow that will be flexible enough for diagnostic labs to develop various types of tests. It will include capabilities, she said, for things like curating data for gene panels, validating tests prior to launch, and generating the reports that are returned to requesting physicians.

Omicia has already begun piloting the product at a number of undisclosed locations and is planning a general release for the second half of 2014. Rather than launch a separate product, Son Rigby said that the company will sell the workflow as part of Opal, its existing software-as-a-service solution for analyzing and interpreting disease-causing variants. The company is not disclosing pricing for its diagnostics product at this time.

On the whole genome analysis side, Martin Reese, Omicia's co-founder and president, said that the company will work on incorporating new interpretation algorithms into Opal. He said that the company is exploring and validating algorithms that are "similar in concept" to the Variant Annotation, Analysis, and Selection Tool — the disease gene finding algorithm underlying Opal that Omicia developed in collaboration with the University of Utah — and can offer capabilities for things like ranking variants and genes, checking disease relevance, and so on.

Omicia's fundraising was led by Artis Ventures with investments from Acadia Woods Partners, Bay City Capital, Buchanan Investments, and Casdin Capital. As part of their firms' investment, Tad Buchanan from Buchanan Investments and William Gerber from Bay City Capital have joined the company's board of directors. They are expected to provide expertise that "will play a pivotal role in ensuring we fulfill our strategic plan," according to Mike Aicher, Omicia's CEO.

The current development activity is part and parcel of that plan, Son Rigby said, and builds on Omicia's previous activity in the genomics market place. Although the company has always targeted the clinical genomic analysis arena with its product, since whole-genome sequencing has been used primarily in research settings, "the vast majority of our customers to date have been on the research side and it's really just been in the last year or so [that] that’s been moving towards the clinics," she said. In an attempt to capitalize on that shift, "we are releasing functionality that’s enabling our software platform to be utilized in high-throughput standardized diagnostic setting."

It’s a shift that other companies have recognized and for which they have begun preparing products. For example, Qiagen's plans for its newly acquired software intellectual property — specifically IP from its Ingenuity acquisition — include developing a web-based variant analysis solution, much like Omicia's, that will support next-generation sequence-based clinical testing and reporting. The company has already begun testing the solution, which is based on the Ingenuity Variant Analysis software — in a number of commercial and academic laboratories and plans to launch it later this year. Meanwhile, Strand Life Sciences launched an early access program to test its variant interpretation and reporting pipeline for diagnostic testing labs, which will go to market in the spring.

But there is room for Omicia's product on the market particularly amongst labs looking for an elastic solution that can handle data from multiple sequencing platforms and array-based technologies and support different types of test indications, Reese said.

Plus, Omicia has several years' worth of expertise in whole-genome analysis and in developing robust algorithms to identify variants of interest from these sorts of datasets — a skill set that some of its competitors may not possess — and can bring these skills to bear on its product, Son Rigby added.

Aside from product development, the new funds will help the company increase its headcount and build a sales team that will handle product marketing and promotion.

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