CHICAGO – GATC Health, a startup company that focuses on omics-based disease risk prediction, has been expanding the reach of its Multiomics Advanced Technology (MAT) bioinformatics platform.
The company, which is distinct from GATC Biotech, a German sequencing services firm that was acquired by Eurofins in 2017, is less than a year old, but the underlying technology has been around for more than a decade — and has its roots in medical marijuana.
What is now called MAT is the brainchild of Ian Jenkins, one of the directors of the company's science team and the former CEO of Frélii, a now-defunct, publicly traded biotech company that applied artificial intelligence to genomic data. Frélii transferred its assets to GATC Health in October, then shut down.
The core team at what is now GATC Health got involved with Frélii and licensed the analytics technology in 2019 for GATC Canna, a medical cannabis research company. GATC Canna has the same owners as GATC Health, but is a separate entity that is considered a licensee of GATC Health.
Work on an immunity analysis platform evolved into a company called GATC Rx that ultimately became a subsidiary of GATC Health, President and Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Moses explained.
"Some of the most mature work that Ian and his team have done in developing these predictive genomic [response] platforms … was done in the cannabis industry," said Eric Mathur, who serves as a scientific adviser to GATC Health. Mathur added that the GATC Health board decided not to combine with GATC Canna for fear that the cannabis connection might "taint" relationships with pharmaceutical companies.
GATC Health has recently been moving into the consumer market via healthcare providers.
Last week, the company introduced Viral Immunity Platform (VIP), a technology that predicts a person's immune response to viruses based on their genome and other data, including the likelihood of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms. The product should hit the market in the second quarter.
The new offering sits on top of the company's MAT platform, which integrates multiomic and clinical data, then applies artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict immune response to any number of external agents, including drug compounds. The MAT process often includes whole-genome or transcriptome sequencing data, as well as proteome and microbiome analysis, though the firm said that it has recently been including methylation data from biopsied target cells, as well.
Jenkins said that the platform is "agnostic to methods as long as they are loaded with the proper standard for scaling."
For example, in one drug discovery project GATC Health is involved in, researchers are working with biopsied human neuronal cells and are generating genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomic data to find high-priority target markers that indicate pathophysiology of addiction, according to Jenkins. The MAT platform takes the omic datasets as inputs, then applies proprietary analytics techniques that the company did not go into detail about.
The system outputs a model of change to a stimulus such as a drug. While the new VIP product looks at immune response, the overarching MAT platform can identify a number of changes, including in transcriptomes and proteomes, Jenkins said.
The Irvine, California-based startup, which along with its affiliated units has fewer than 20 employees, said that VIP might help patients and their physicians make informed decisions at the individual level with what the firm calls "predictive multiomics." In the context of COVID-19, the company said that it is conducting a clinical trial to determine if this technology can identify predisposition to developing severe illness and complications.
GATC Health has built other analytics modules on top of MAP for medical cannabis response and other applications, and now with the release of VIP, viral immune response. One for use in major depressive disorder is being marketed through undisclosed licensing and distribution partners.
Moses said that the MAT platform is flexible for many kinds of business-to-consumer applications. "We can sell a DNA swab kit and generate a pharmacogenomic report for a medical cannabis patient and their clinician, or we can use it for drug discovery with a big pharma partner," he said, adding that pharma and diagnostics represent the startup's two key markets.
Last month, GATC Health announced a partnership with biomarker discovery firm Liquid Biosciences under which the two firms will link their bioinformatics platforms to accelerate biomarker and drug discovery for pharmaceutical clients. The companies said that the partnership will also lower the cost of R&D and improve the safety and accuracy of clinical trials.
Liquid Biosciences will provide its Emerge multiomic analysis technology to help uncover biological processes associated with specific diseases. With MAT, GATC Health will then perform analyses for pharma firms to narrow their lists of potential compounds during preclinical development.
The collaboration will start with unspecified neurological diseases, and Liquid Biosciences is helping GATC Health connect with its pharmaceutical partners.
Jenkins said that Liquid Biosciences came to GATC Health for help in sorting through data to validate biomarkers from its discovery research. He added that GATC Health's analysis can save many thousands of hours in discovery work through its proprietary algorithms that model interactions of compounds with known biomarkers.
Jenkins noted that multiomic and phenotypic data is fragmented, a problem that GATC Health's technology is attempting to address with feedback loops.
Beyond that, the platform can mine genomic data and compare it to known markers for disease risk, such as for Alzheimer's or diabetes, to predict onset and determine appropriate prophylaxis, according to Mathur.
Liquid Biosciences is the company's first announced partnership, though Moses said that GATC Health has struck deals with others that it will be unveiling soon.
GATC Health intends to sell its consumer-facing products like VIP through licensing and distribution partners. According to Jenkins, the firm has pending agreements with two organizations that together support more than 40,000 COVID-19 test sites in the US. "Both entities are interested in future-proofing their sales channels by getting away from COVID-specific offerings and into immunity and future viral threats," he said.
A long history
Though GATC Health is a fledgling company, Moses has been working with Jenkins and his bioinformatics team for several years.
The analysis technology actually dates to 2009. Jenkins had been doing plant research for a maker of dietary supplements when his father was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. He left the job to shift to cancer research, specifically the mitigation of side effects from chemotherapy.
"I was like, oh, crap, I got to kind of accelerate this thing," Jenkins recalls. He and colleagues decided to incorporate computational biology and machine learning into algorithms to "find the non-obvious connections and answers" to their questions about the effects of cancer treatments.
Cannabis was an early study subject because cannabidiol (CBD) had shown promise in inhibiting the growth of neuroblastoma, but Jenkins' father ended up dying from the cancer before the technology was finished.
At its essence, GATC Canna is involved in pharmacogenomics, applying technology to plant and human genomes to predict cannabinoid response in patients with pain, sleep, and anxiety issues, Mathur said.
Jenkins said that the MAT platform helps by predicting the strain and dosage that would be most effective for individual patients. The technology also can inform cannabinoid drug development through transcriptomic analysis, which he said is where smaller medical cannabis producers are headed. In particular, the technology has helped researchers understand how ratios between terpenes and flavonoids in cannabinoids can affect patient outcomes.
GATC Canna is also working with Health Canada to better understand cannabinoid treatment, according to the company. Mathur said that the two-year-old trial is searching for a nanotechnology for making solubilized cannabinoids, measuring uptake of these substances in the blood. GATC Canna will be looking to isolate DNA and RNA samples to classify patient response to treatments, he said.
The company outsources its sequencing to a service provider, and Mathur, who built informatics systems for Craig Venter at Synthetic Genomics, said that companies like GATC Health should not bother owning sequencers.
Jenkins said that GATC Health can analyze a whole genome in less than five minutes, down from about 165 hours when the MAP precursor launched a decade ago. The system is now fully automated, including the annotation.
In October, GATC Health filed documents with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for a $5 million investment solicitation but has not yet completed the fundraise.
Moses said he hopes to build further products for the B2C market, but only based on customer demand. On the pharma side, GATC Health expects to stay heavily involved in drug development.
"We're going to stay focused on what we can manage. We're a small, young company and we're going to scale at a pace that's reasonable but aggressive and really pick our battles," Moses said.
The ultimate goal may be to get acquired. "The technology itself, whether it's us or whoever acquires us someday, will ultimately become the underwriting platform for pharma interaction with the medical community," Jenkins said.
"We're open to all possibilities right now," said Moses. He expects the technology to be handed off to someone, be it an investor group or an acquiring company, that can distribute it globally. "It would be reasonable to assume that there is going to be a bigger player involved at some point," he said.