Genologics Aims to Turn Patient Records, Genome Data into Something Biologists Can Use

Xconomy Seattle — 

A little company on Vancouver Island has its sights set on one of the big challenges of the day in healthcare software. It is trying to piece together the vast puzzle of data on human health—everything from patient medical records, tissue or blood sample readings from the lab, and genomic data—and package it all in a coherent way so biologists see patterns they might otherwise never see.

The company, Victoria, BC-based GenoLogics, has been on my list to check on since February, when it raised $5 million in venture capital from Kirkland, WA-based OVP Venture Partners and a pair of Vancouver, BC-based firms—GrowthWorks Capital and Yaletown Venture Partners. I got an update on the company’s progress over the phone from CEO Michael Ball.

The challenge here would be hard to overstate. All of the data GenoLogics has in mind is stored at different institutions, in different proprietary formats, without obvious ways to link them into a coherent whole. And GenoLogics certainly isn’t the only company trying to solve this problem, or parts of it: Microsoft has recently given this a shot with its Amalga program, designed to get the typical 80 different hospital IT systems to talk to each other, and it has followed that up recently by rolling out Amalga Life Sciences, a program it hopes will do the same for biologists’ labs. Even as cheaper genome sequencing leads to great volumes piling up in hard drives, many biologists continue to be notoriously slow adopters of new IT programs, clinging to their homemade programs, or outdated versions of Excel spreadsheets that were never made to help show patterns in vast data sets like this.

It’s little wonder that drugmakers still struggle to improve on a 90 percent failure rate for drugs that enter clinical trials, and that it takes more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars to develope every new one. Some top biologists, like Leroy Hood of the Institute for Systems Biology, have been seeking ways to find clues in those medical records, blood samples, lifestyle questionnaires, and genomic readouts that might help drugmakers predict which patients will be helped by a drug, and which won’t.

That’s the opening that GenoLogics hopes to exploit, by selling its product to Big Pharma and biotech companies that desperately need to improve their batting average in product development.

“It’s clear to everybody now that the next Lipitor mass market drug won’t happen, and now you’re going to have to target subsets of the population to get through the FDA,” Ball says. “We find that the paradigm is changing.”

Some of this may be wishful thinking, because at least on my radar there are a lot more companies that aspire to market drugs across broad patient populations than there are companies that zero in on narrowly customized drugs to fit patients with certain genotypes—like Genentech’s trastuzumab (Herceptin) for about one-fourth of breast cancer patients.

But GenoLogics appears to have some momentum behind it. The company was founded in 2001 based on … Next Page »

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