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Element Biosciences Lands $15M to Develop New Genetic Analysis Tools

Xconomy San Diego — 

Most of the genetic analysis done today is performed on machines made by Illumina, the DNA sequencing giant.

Now a former director from the company is leading a startup that has raised $15 million to develop new genome sequencing tools.

San Diego’s Element Biosciences said Tuesday that it had secured a Series A round led by Foresite Capital, a healthcare and life sciences venture capital firm based in San Francisco, and Silicon Valley’s Venrock.

Molly He, Element’s CEO and co-founder, is a venture partner at Foresite. Prior to joining the firm in 2017, she was a senior director of scientific research at Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN). Before that, she was head of protein sciences at Pacific Biosciences (NASDAQ: PACB), a smaller rival DNA sequencing company that Illumina agreed to acquire for $1.2 billion last November. (The acquisition has not yet closed. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority on Wednesday raised antitrust concerns in connection with the deal.)

Since Illumina’s founding in 1998, the cost of sequencing a human genome has plummeted. Sequencing the first such genome cost more than $2 billion. By 2014, Illumina had cut the price tag to under $1,000. At the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in 2017, CEO Francis deSouza said the company anticipates its latest machine will one day be able to do the task for $100.

But Element says it sees an opportunity to disrupt the industry by developing tools that are cheaper and better than those currently available.

Basic and clinical researchers today use platforms that “resemble mainframe computers” for genetic analysis, Foresite Capital CEO and managing director Jim Tananbaum said in the news release announcing Element’s funding.

Element says it will use the new capital to fuel its R&D to improve upon today’s analysis process.

“We are on an aggressive path to introduce a high quality, flexible platform to make genetic analysis more accessible and adaptable to a broad customer base,” said He in the release.