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Sequence Bio Building Business on 100K-Patient Canadian Dataset for Drug Discovery


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Privately held startup Sequence Bioinformatics is hoping to make its bread and butter by offering drug developers proprietary access to integrated clinical and genomic datasets as well as a computational pipeline and data-analysis tools to identify new therapeutic targets for inherited diseases, cancer, and other ailments.

The two-year old firm has launched a precision medicine initiative in collaboration with the Newfoundland and Labrador government to gather genomic and phenotypic information from 100,000 consenting participants in the province. In addition to populating its database the company is also forging agreements with bioinformatics vendors to offer cloud-based analysis pipelines alongside its datasets, Tyler Wish, Sequence Bio's co-founder and CEO, told GenomeWeb.

Sequence Bio's business model is to pursue collaborations with drug development companies who are interested in identifying new therapeutic targets for various kinds of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, neurological disorders, and other conditions. The firm is open to providing just data or offering a combination of analytics and data, Wish said. It is also exploring opportunities to identify and outlicense drug targets to partner companies.

Sequence Bio is currently in discussions with some drug companies about potential partnerships, and so far has at least one agreement in place with Capella Bio focused on colon cancer. The company will also launch some specific drug-development initiatives later this fall, Wish said. Pricing for access to the platform will vary based on the therapeutic area in question, and the size and type of data involved.

So far the company has collected data on a few thousand patients, which it is using in its initial collaborative projects. Optimistically, Wish said that the company hopes to complete data collection in three years. At that point, Sequence Bio will have access to genomic and clinical information from about a fifth of the province's roughly 500,000 inhabitants.

Initially, Sequence Bio intended to provide data from smaller patient cohorts for use in drug discovery in a few therapeutic areas. The company soon realized, however, that a much larger pool of data would be far more meaningful for drug discovery and has spent the last two years establishing partnerships, raising some early venture capital, and putting the requisite infrastructure in place to support the data and studies, Wish said.

Part of Sequence's efforts involved educating relevant stakeholders — namely the Newfoundland and Labrador government, healthcare providers in the area, and broader populace — and advocating for the precision medicine project. Like Iceland, Finland, and a few other parts of the world, Newfoundland and Labrador has a genetically isolated population with some unique genetic characteristics that lend themselves quite well to modern drug discovery, Wish told GenomeWeb. For example, there is a high incidence of rare Mendelian and complex diseases found in the province, he said. Moreover, the province has implemented a robust electronic medical record platform that adequately captures information on healthcare utilization and delivery, both of which are valuable assets for characterizing clinical phenotypes.

The planned platform will support everything from patient recruitment and sample sequencing all the way through to complex algorithms for exploring data across multiple therapeutic areas, Wish said. On the patient side, for instance, the company is developing mechanisms and protocols to recruit and obtain consent from potential participants that come into local healthcare centers, but also to reach out to patients remotely. Wish said that the company is exploring ways of providing value to contributing patients including, for example, providing them with results of molecular profiling of their tissues to help their physicians make better treatment decisions for their care.

Sequence Bio will also offer access to bioinformatics pipelines for extracting useful insights from the combined datasets, and the company is currently seeking partnerships with various vendors to include their tools and pipelines in its cloud-based computational portfolio. So far, it has signed an agreement with GenoSpace to use the company's Population Analytics solution, which offers cloud-based storage facilities; integration tools for combining genomic, clinical, and laboratory data; and tools for population stratification and biomarker discovery, among other features. GenoSpace's platform also supports Inova Health System's whole-genome sequencing initiative, which aims to sequence roughly 20,000 genomes by the end of this year and link them to clinical data to uncover genetic factors that contribute to a wide range of diseases.

"[The population analytics solution] allows us to integrate and manage very complex large volumes of data in the cloud and the ability to plug in other technologies using GenoSpace as the background infrastructure," Wish said. In addition, it provides "a really strong framework around data privacy and security and that's critical for patient-level information," he added.

Wish said that Sequence is also currently in discussions with a number of other unnamed bioinformatics companies about potential partnerships. In addition, it is developing some proprietary analytical tools internally that it will include in its offering, building a sequencing facility, and exploring opportunities for drug-development companies that are interested in using its datasets to handle some of the sample sequencing needs.

"We have a great opportunity to develop a large cohort with multi-omics information linked with clinical information ... the richness of the dataset is very compelling," Wish said. Furthermore the uniqueness of the attendant patient population and their genetic characteristics should make the company's offering attractive to prospective drug discovery firms, he added.

Sequence Bio is headquartered in Newfoundland but maintains a presence in Cambridge, Massachusetts and San Francisco. The company currently has roughly 12 employees and contract staff and plans to hire another dozen people by next year, Wish said. Earlier this year, the company raised a total of $1 million CAD (about $750,000 USD) from Killick Capital, Pelorus Venture Capital, and Klister Credit.