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Courtagen Acquires Medicinal Genomics; Plans Clinical Sequencing Services


By Julia Karow

This article, originally published Jan. 17, has been updated with additional information from Courtagen.

Courtagen Life Sciences has acquired Medicinal Genomics for an undisclosed amount and plans to start offering clinical sequencing services in March.

Medicinal Genomics had focused on studying the genomics and medical use of cannabis. Following the acquisition last month, its founder and CEO, Kevin McKernan, joined Courtagen as chief scientific officer. Courtagen is headed by his two brothers, CEO Brian McKernan and president Brendan McKernan.

"We were both building businesses that needed sequencing," and decided that sharing a sequencing facility made more sense than building two separate resources, Kevin McKernan told CSN this week. In addition, the two companies saw overlap in some of their markets, with a few pharmaceutical companies interested both in cannabis genome sequences and exome sequencing services of patients for clinical trials, he said.

Courtagen, which changed its name from Avantra Biosciences last summer, has thus far focused on protein diagnostics, offering a point-of-care multiplex immunoassay platform called Avantra Q400.

Starting in March, the firm plans to add clinical sequencing services, including exome sequencing and maybe more targeted assays, McKernan said. The company expects to provide more information about these services, and the customers it will target, in about six weeks.

Offering both clinical exomes and multiplexed immunoassays, which measure up to 20 analytes in blood and yield results in about 40 minutes, will put Courtagen in a "very unique position in the marketplace," McKernan said, adding that the two assay types will be "very complementary" for disease studies, for example of cancer.

McKernan brings considerable next-gen sequencing experience to Courtagen. He started Medicinal Genomics last year after leaving Life Technologies, where he was vice president and director of R&D and oversaw the development of the SOLiD sequencing platform. He helped develop the SOLiD technology at Agencourt Personal Genomics, a company he founded with his brothers. APG was acquired by Life Tech's predecessor Applied Biosystems in 2006.

At the moment, Courtagen is equipped with one Illumina HiSeq and two MiSeqs and will start offering genomic services on these platforms. According to its website, it also uses the ABI 3730xl capillary sequencing platform and Roche's NimbleGen SeqCap EZ capture method.

However, "my general take on clinical sequencing is that we should probably do a dual platform," McKernan said. For this approach, Courtagen is considering both the Life Tech 5500 — the former SOLiD — with its new "Wildfire" amplification and the Ion Torrent Proton sequencer, and plans to compare the two side by side at the time wants to bring in a second sequencing technology. That platform will "help fill in any of the holes and complement the validation," he said.

In addition, Medicinal Genomics, as a division of Courtagen, will continue its work on cannabis. Last summer, the company said that it had sequenced the genomes of two cannabis strains using the 454 platform (GenomeWeb Daily News 8/18/2011). Several groups have expressed an interest in having more cannabis plants sequenced, McKernan said, and the firm is looking into providing genetic testing for cannabis that will assist some states in their regulation of the plant.

While Medicinal's Marblehead, Mass. office has been merged into Courtagen's Woburn, Mass. location, it still maintains its Amsterdam office in the Netherlands, which has access to high-quality cannabis seed and operates under more favorable regulations for doing research on the plant, he said.

Have topics you'd like to see covered in Clinical Sequencing News? Contact the editor at jkarow [at] genomeweb [.] com.