Knome Names New CEO, Cuts Deal With Johns Hopkins to Analyze 1,000 Genomes

Like a lot of biotech executives focused on developing drugs, Martin Tolar has long been skeptical of the value of genomics in bringing about personalized medicine. But over the past few months of scoping out new opportunities, he’s become enough of a believer to jump into genomics with both feet, as the new CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Knome.

“You always hear about genomics and the revolution that never happened,” Tolar says. “There was Millennium and deCode, and others who raised lots of money. But I looked at this and said, ‘No, this is incredible, it’s really happening.’ All the pieces of equation are coming together.'”

Tolar, the former CEO of Wellesley, MA-based NormOxys, is joining Knome just as it has completed its fourth year in business, which was by far its best. The company is announcing today that it has won a new contract to analyze and compare 1,000 genomes for scientists at Johns Hopkins University, who are looking for genetic variants linked to asthma in African American and African Caribbean populations. It’s the latest addition to Knome’s roster of about 100 customers for its genomic-analysis software service, although the Hopkins project is by far the biggest. Knome isn’t disclosing the value of the new project, but the company expects to generate $20 million in revenue in 2012 from academic, biotech, and pharmaceutical industry customers, Tolar says.

Tolar joins Knome after his previous company—which raised $17.5 million in May 2010—discovered in clinical trials that its experimental drug worked in a different way than its scientists thought. The NormOxys drug was shown to alter the PI3 kinase pathway, instead of releasing controlled amounts of oxygen into cells. Tolar didn’t say much about the situation, other than that the NormOxys drug is still moving forward in clinical trials for a different use, and that he was more excited by the task in front of him at Knome.

Martin Tolar

Knome’s previous CEO, Jorge Conde, is staying with the company as chief strategy officer, and will focus on product development, Tolar says. The management team is being further filled out by Jonas Lee, a board member who will now join the company as chief marketing officer, while Marc Rubenfeld, formerly of Beckman Coulter, is joining as vice president of operations.

The timing is right for Knome to grow in 2012, Tolar says, because the torrid pace of innovation with faster/cheaper DNA sequencing hardware has created … Next Page »

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