Compendia Bioscience Morphs Into Big Pharma’s Cancer Genomics Partner

10/21/10

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prostate cancer. The key finding was published in 2008. The software was also used at the University of Michigan, where Rhodes originally co-developed the technology, to identify gene fusions that are believed to cause prostate cancer.

The San Diego-based diagnostics firm Gen-Probe (NASDAQ:GPRO) has licensed the University of Michigan’s gene fusion discovery made with Compendia’s technology. Gen-Probe is now in the early stages of developing a test that uses the biomarker to diagnose aggressive prostate tumors and to monitor how well certain therapies are treating the cancer, according to its website.

In fact, Rhodes began developing what eventually became Compendia’s cancer genomic research software while working in the lab of renowned cancer researcher Arul Chinnaiyan at the University of Michigan. Rhodes says that he and Chinnaiyan originally built out the database and software for their own internal cancer genomics investigations, but it later became apparent that there was interest among other academics and pharmaceutical companies to make use of the technology.

Rhodes and Chinnaiyan co-founded Compendia in early 2006. By 2007, the firm announced it had picked up pharmaceutical companies as customers. Now the firm’s software has been licensed by 15 of the top 20 cancer drug developers in the world, including the British drug giants AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline. Also, there are 17,413 academic researchers who use a basic version of Compendia’s software for free, Rhodes says.

The company’s technology might overlap with searchable academic cancer databases, and Rhodes concedes that there are a number of bioinformatics outfits that offer genomic research software. Cupertino, CA-based NextBio, for instance, makes use of publicly available genomic data, and pools it with proprietary experimental results generated by the Big Pharma companies, to create a deep, searchable database for drug developers. What helps distinguish Compendia, Rhodes says, is its focus on cancer and its combination of both patient tumor profiles and cancer biomarkers validated in published research.

Compendia has grown to 26 employees, and its operations are primarily supported by income from its technology licenses and services, Rhodes says. The firm reports that it has received $4.1 million in two Small Business Innovation Research grants since 2007. The state of Michigan has also supported the firm with $2.8 million from its 21st century jobs fund.

The company plans to break even or even reach profitability this year, Rhodes says. It’s likely that the firm’s partnerships with pharma companies will have a lot to do with that potential profitability.

“The neat thing that’s happening for our company right now,” Rhodes says, “is that there is this trend in pharma to look to external innovation providers.”

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