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Edico’s Strategy Is To ‘Come in Second’

Armed with fresh venture funding and steered by some of the best thinkers in biotechnology, San Diego-based Edico Genome is headed to market with a specialized microchip that it hopes will become the definitive second step in processing a genome.

Edico Genome plans to use $10 million in Series A venture funds to double its workforce to 30 people and “engage with customers more aggressively,” said Pieter van Rooyen, the company’s CEO.

“We believe we’re very well-positioned to address the big problem within sequencing,” van Rooyen said.

Edico Genome’s technology is not in sequencing the genome. The cost for that process — which converts biological data to digital data — has decreased to the $1,000 territory. Edico Genome’s chip — called the Dragen Bio-IT Processor — applies to the step that comes after sequencing, making sense of that digital data. Dragen comes equipped with software for mapping, alignment, sorting and variant calling.

Edico said its chip can analyze a genome faster and much less expensively than competing products. While previous solutions to process genomes have used servers, the Edico Genome chip can run on a PCIe card, which is roughly the size of a 5-by-8 index card.

The market for bioinformatics — the use of computational tools to study biological, medical or health data — is expected to hit $2 billion annually in 2015 or 2016, van Rooyen said; other sources peg the market as larger.

The venture arm of Qualcomm Inc. is leading the $10 million Series A round, joined by Axon Ventures. Greg Lucier, who was chairman and CEO of Life Technologies before it was sold to Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., is investing in the company as an individual and will receive a seat on Edico Genome’s board.

“Edico Genome’s solution to speed data analysis and lower costs has the potential to have a large impact on many areas of medicine, particularly in oncology and noninvasive prenatal testing,” Lucier said in a statement.

Dragen is now in the hands of certain customers as a pilot project. The business plans to make the chip widely available when the American Society of Human Genetics meets in October.

Making Data Manageable

A file depicting one human genome can be as large as 200 gigabytes, which is enough data to fill about 300 compact discs.

Of course, those who sequence genomes work in bulk. “Imagine 1 million people,” van Rooyen said.

To make the data manageable, Edico Genome reduces the file size to 200 megabytes — small enough to fit on a CD with room for two more genomes.

The era of the $1,000 genome promises a glut of data. Edico Genome officials argue that the “bottleneck” in the process will shift from the first step, sequencing, to the second step, analysis.

The Dragen chip can reduce the time it takes to analyze the entire human genome from 24 hours to 18 minutes, Edico officials said.

The company said it has demonstrated how one Dragen accelerator card can analyze data generated by a full Illumina Inc. HiSeq X 10 system producing 18,000 whole human genomes per year. Normally, 50 high-end computer servers would have to do the follow-up work.

The cost savings could be $6 million over four years, the business said.

Sequencing machines of the future could conceivably have the Dragen processor inside them, van Rooyen said.

Intellectual Heft on Board

So far, van Rooyen said, Edico Genome’s competitors offer either software — which needs servers — or cloud-based solutions. The latter needs a very fast Internet connection, since it takes a while to upload a 200 gigabyte file, the CEO said.

Edico Genome is Greg Lucier’s first investment after his time leading Life Technologies, which was publicly traded prior to its February sale to Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. (NYSE: TMO).

Edico Genome has other mental heft on its advisory board. Board members include Dr. Eric Topol, professor of genomics at The Scripps Research Institute; Charles Cantor, who is chief scientific officer at Sequenom Inc.; and Nils Homer, genomics informatics leader at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

For now, Edico Genome resides in the EvoNexus technology incubator in the University Towne Center mall.

In addition to van Rooyen, company founders include Robert McMillen, vice president of engineering; and Michael Reuhle, director of system architecture.

Van Rooyen is an electrical engineer. He noted San Diego has a great “synergy” because it is where the chipmaking and biotechnology communities converge.

Looking ahead, van Rooyen predicted that in the coming decade, scientists might be able to sequence a genome on a mobile device and then process that data on the same.

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