One of the lasting legacies of Covid-19 was the spotlight that it shone on the U.K.’s rapidly growing genomics industry, currently worth over £5 billion, and raising 34% of the wider U.K. life sciences sector’s total investment, according to the Genomics Nation report. It is a booming industry; just recently, gene-sequencing startup Nanopore was valued at almost £2.5 billion ($3.44 billion) ahead of a planned flotation this year after raising £195 million from investors.
While it was the U.K.’s genomic surveillance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants that grabbed the media coverage and led the way worldwide throughout the pandemic, behind the news headlines is a hive of innovative activity that promises to make genomics a routine global component of the healthcare and medical infrastructures.
The U.K. Government-owned Genomics England was established in 2012, as part of a landmark project to sequence 100,000 whole genomes from NHS patients. It now runs the National Genomic Research Library, the only facility of its kind in the world, storing over 110,000 clinical grade whole genomes across a range of rare diseases and cancers, creating a treasure trove of additional data for scientists and researchers. While genomics is not a new science, it was Genomics England that became the catalyst for a new generation of genomic startups on a mission to improve patients’ lives.
Genomics is an incredibly fragmented landscape. While there is lot of relevant published data, one of the key challenges for scientists is finding relevant and comprehensive information about specific gene variants. In that respect, Saphetor has been described as the ‘Google of genomics’ by allowing researchers to discover if a genetic mutation is linked to a disease or not.
The company was founded in 2014 by Andreas Massouras. Following a successful career in finance and the completion of a master’s degree in software engineering, and PhD in life sciences, he recognized the importance of transferring those skills to healthcare.
Saphetor is best known for building and maintaining the VarSome platforms, based on its enormous knowledge base of genomic data as well as the algorithms to effectively apply it. These give clinicians and researchers the information they need to quickly find the molecular causes of diseases, such as cancer and genetic disorders, as well as build a comprehensive understanding of genomic variants in their patients.
To date, VarSome has had over 350,000 users from 3,500 global medical, biotech and academic institutions, helping diagnose tens of thousands of patients from genome-scale sequencing; an impressive achievement by a company that has sought only $7 million investment.
Millions of people are at increased risk of developing at least one of the common diseases or cancers that are already stretching healthcare resources globally. Finding these people is key to improving disease prevention and reducing pressure on healthcare systems.
Genomics plc was founded in 2014 by world-leading Oxford academics, including its CEO Professor Sir Peter Donnelly. The company is using genomics to transform disease prevention and drug discovery, and has raised $100 million in two funding rounds.
The company’s proprietary methods represent an entirely new approach to identifying individuals at increased risk, measuring the genetic component of disease risk, and combining it with non-genetic factors, in powerfully predictive tools. These tools help doctors to get people into the right healthcare pathways for prevention, early diagnosis, or treatment, preventing disease altogether or catching it early when outcomes are much better. The Genomics’ platform also analyses huge genetic datasets to identify novel drug targets, and accelerate drug discovery.
With the help of Sano Genetics people with rare and chronic conditions are able to contribute to personalized medicine research effortlessly, significantly speeding up the development of new medicines. If a pharmaceutical company asks Sano for a cohort of people with a specific gene, the company follows up with questionnaires to elicit information that could give some additional context to what they’re seeing at a genetic level.
Launched in 2017, founders Patrick Short, Charlotte Guzzo and William Jones met while studying postgraduate genomics at Cambridge University. There, they observed the issues that can dog research: recruitment problems, costly delays, high dropout rates and a poor participant experience. They noticed, too, the barriers to taking part, such as proximity to hospitals and concerns around how sensitive data will be handled.
Their tech proposition, coupled with easy-to-use at-home testing kits, won their university’s entrepreneurs awards. Sano Genetics has since raised £3 million ($4.13 million) in pre-seed and seed rounds, and received four grants totaling £880,000 from Innovate UK. A Series A funding round will follow later this year. Clients are biotech and pharma companies running studies into treatments for conditions including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis and long COVID.
The evolution of genomic sequencing has made it easy and cheap enough to analyze the genome precisely at scale, enabling novel therapeutic approaches to read the ‘genomic rules’ for application to specific gene targets of interest.
MiNA Therapeutics is using genetic technology to try to cure diseases directly and is pioneering a new class of medicines, small activating RNA (saRNA) therapeutics, which offer potentially transformational benefits to patients by switching specific genes on, thereby restoring or boosting normal gene function.
Founded in 2008 by a team led by Nagy Habib, Pål Sætrom and John Rossi, the company was initially aimed at removing a cancer immune-evasion pathway via myeloid-derived suppressor cells in liver cancers, but is now expanding rapidly. MiNA has received approximately $115 million in funding, including through collaborations with AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Servier, and recently completed a £23 million ($32 million) Series A venture capital round in August 2020, led by aMoon, Israel’s largest life science venture fund.
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