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somewhere else. South San Francisco genomics startup Jungla was based on research that started at UW when co-founder and CEO Carlos Araya was a doctoral researcher working with Fowler. In July, Jungla was acquired in a deal worth up to $65 million by a Bay Area neighbor, gene-testing giant Invitae (NYSE: NVTA). (Araya is one of the scheduled speakers at Genome Startup Day.)
Life Science Washington, an industry trade group, was unable to provide information specifically related to genomics companies in the state. A 2019 economic impact report from the group counts 1,144 life science organizations, which includes companies as well as academic and nonprofit research institutions spread across 110 cities. Seattle leads the way with 440 life science entities.
The report notes that one factor driving the industry’s growth in the state is the convergence of the life sciences and computing. Adaptive Biotechnologies (NASDAQ: ADPT) is one example. The Seattle company sequences the DNA of immune cells for clinical applications and pharmaceutical research. Adaptive’s own research includes a partnership with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) focused on developing a blood test that could diagnose multiple diseases.
If Seattle lacks the entrepreneurial drive found in the Bay Area and elsewhere, Liachko says that culture needs to be created. Information technology is one pillar a Seattle genomics hub can stand on. As the home to Microsoft, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), and other tech companies, the Puget Sound region brims with software expertise. Genomics research is becoming increasingly information driven, and startups will need workers with technical chops and data analytics experience, Liachko says.
One factor that might hinder Seattle-area genomics startups is money. According to the National Venture Capital Association’s 2019 Yearbook, Washington state ranked fourth in venture capital investments last year, but it was a distant fourth. The top state for venture capital investment was California, where firms spread $77.3 billion across 4,063 deals. New York and Massachusetts round out the top three states, which together accounted for 79 percent of the total $131 billion invested. In Washington state, $2.9 billion was invested across 366 deals.
Liachko acknowledges that Seattle falls shy of the top regions for venture capital investment, but he says firms are looking to invest in the best technologies regardless of location. It’s up to Seattle-area scientists and entrepreneurs to show what the Puget Sound region can offer. That effort has to start sometime, and Liachko says it might as well be now.
“By sparking more commercialization, we will attract more investment dollars into the area,” Liachko says. “But if there is no commercialization, the investment dollars won’t come.”