Strand Life Sciences will use the proceeds of a recently closed $10 million funding round to develop software applications and put in place the infrastructure to start offering next-generation sequencing-based diagnostic services to Indian clinics by the middle of 2013.
Vijay Chandru, Strand's founder, chairman, and CEO, told BioInform this week that the company hopes to start offering exome-based testing and analysis services globally probably within a year. That’s about how long the company believes it will take to validate and stabilize the platform in India, he said.
The Bangalore, India-based firm said this week that it completed a round of Series B financing with Burrill & Company, a global financial services firm that supports businesses in the life science industry.
Strand raised $10 million in the round. The financing includes a primary investment into Strand and a secondary buyout of the lead Series A investors, which includes Westbridge, an Indian venture capital firm that used to be part of Sequoia Capital.
Chandru told BioInform that his firm has spent the past two years fundraising, setting up labs, equipping them with sequencers, and tailoring its bioinformatics tools to be able to provide data analysis and interpretation in a clinical context.
Historically, Strand has focused on clients in the life science research market. In 2010, the company released the first version of its NGS analysis software, Avadis NGS, which is used for analyzing data from ChIP- and RNA-sequencing and DNA variation experiments. It also renewed an existing partnership with Agilent Technologies to create a version of GeneSpring that could integrate multiple types of -omics data (BI 10/8/2010). Earlier that same year, Strand said it planned to develop new computational tools to study the molecular mechanisms of head and neck cancer with the help of India's Narayana Hrudalaya hospital (BI 8/27/2010).
Then in 2011, Strand was one of several commercial participants in the Illumina Data Excellence Award contest (BI 7/1/2011). More recently, the company was included in a list of development partners for Illumina's BaseSpace app store (BI 8/24/2012).
"Our existing business of building bioinformatics tools, selling them, and doing some value-added consulting on top of that [is] sustaining and self sufficient," Chandru said. However, he noted, Strand has decided to offer personalized medicine services because "the size of research markets for genomics analysis software is modest at best."
Strand has decided to offer both sequencing and analysis services in India so that it can "control the quality of the data generation for clinical application," Chandru said. When the company starts offering services to clients in other regions, such as the US, "we are likely to stick to the informatics and outsource the sequencing," he said.
In India, Strand will offer targeted sequencing panels using instruments from Illumina and Life Technologies that can identify genetic mutations associated with conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and some rare pediatric diseases as well as tools for data interpretation and clinical report generation and genetic counseling services, Chandru said.
The company's bioinformaticists, he said, are working on tailoring the firm's text mining and natural language processing capabilities as well as building knowledgebases that contain curated publicly available data about genetic mutations from resources like PubMed, he said. The team is also working on developing browsers and interfaces through which clinicians can interact with the data they get back from testing.
"The model is to do complete end-to-end clinical genomics right from sample sequencing, secondary analysis, tertiary analysis, then interpretation and … clinical report generation, which will be delivered to the physicians," Chandru said.
In the case of cancer, for example, physicians who send in samples for testing will receive reports that contain lists of relevant mutations and information about these variants from public literature, including information that will help them determine the best courses of action for their patients, he said. Strand will refine the report based on feedback it gets from clinicians about the kind of information they want to receive, he added.
Chandru said that Strand will only offer whole-exome sequencing and analysis so that patients can afford to pay for testing if their physicians recommend it.
In India, patients usually pay out of pocket for their healthcare, he explained, and so "affordability" is a concern. Strand believes that it can offer whole-exome testing at a reasonable price, but the cost for whole genome-based testing would be "out of range for self paying customers," Chandru said.
Strand is still discussing how much it will actually charge for its services, Chandru said, but he told BioInform that the costs will vary and will likely be cheaper than similar services offered in the US.
Meanwhile, Strand will continue to offer research-based products and services, Chandru said.
"Our strength derives from the familiarity with the nuances of bench science and we need to keep that edge," he told BioInform.