Knome Challenged to Keep in Step with Falling Genetic Sequencing Prices

1/20/10

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$113 million from the federal economic stimulus last year to invest in genetic research, in addition to its normal annual budget of $367 million. The goal of the institute is advance the understanding of our genes to prevent, diagnose, and treat human illnesses.

Conde expects the government research dollars and the reduced costs of sequencing to provide more data to help his firm inform its clients about their health. Their clients can use the software to get updated on how the discoveries impact their health, without the company having to reanalyze their genomes.

To get back into the black, Knome is diversifying its service offerings to appeal to more potential customers. In May, the firm began offering to sequence and interpret a person’s exome, which is the 1 percent or 2 percent of the genome that is most functional for making proteins, for $19,500-$24,500. Then in December, it formally rolled out a service for researchers to provide sequencing and analysis for $12,000 per exome, making sequencing services available to scientists who may not have the infrastructure to perform that work themselves, Conde says.

Interestingly, the lower prices for Knome’s services have dramatically changed the profile of its typical customer, Conde says. The first few people who came through the door back when the price tag was $350,000 were wealthy individuals who saw themselves as genetic pioneers. (Essentially, he says, they wanted to have their genomes sequenced because, for essentially the first time ever, they could.) Many of the firm’s recent customers are people with means, yet they often come to the table with specific questions about their health or genetic composition. For example, one family worked with the firm to help identify genetic signals linked to an aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease that appeared to be prevalent in that family. Others want to find genes for certain physical traits that are common in their families.

The firm has a proprietary browser application that enables its clients to view their genetic information as it relates to certain indicators for diseases or physical traits. The application is updated as new discoveries are made. Conde says that the software side of the business offers his firm the opportunity to get recurring revenue from its customers who pay for software subscriptions to stay abreast of how new findings in genetic research impact their health (The company does not disclose details about revenue, sales figures, or how much capital it has raised.) Conde says that the company is internally funded by the founders, but he hasn’t ruled out raising venture capital in the future. The founders include Conde, Church, and company chairman Sundar Subramaniam, an IT and life sciences entrepreneur who has founded five tech companies that have gone on to complete IPOs, according to his bio.

“Because of the incredible improvements on the sequencing side and all the innovation that has taken place,” he says, “now there’s going to be a tidal wave of genetic data, and we think we’re as well-positioned as anyone to help people begin to wade through that increasing flood of data.”

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