Genomics in San Diego: From the Human Genome to a New Biotechnology Focus

8/13/10

San Diego’s biotechnology industry has played an integral part in advances in genomics. Our reach extends from the research and tools created by startups during the genomics boom that began in the late 1990s, to cost-saving improvements made in DNA sequencing and the new field of synthetic genomics, which may provide important advances from biofuels to personal health. Looking at the history of local companies that helped shape the genomics industry gives us insights to the future, a topic we will also be discussing at the San Diego Biotechnology Network’s 10th Anniversary of the Human Genome event on August 18th. The evening will feature experts from Illumina, Synthetic Genomics, UCSD, the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, Fate Therapeutics, and Accelrys.

We’ve created a list of genomics companies in San Diego, with the companies listed according to the date they were founded or their first landmark in genomics. After the first announcement that the human genome had been sequenced in 2000, many thought that a “gold mine” of new disease targets awaited, and early efforts focused on identifying protein structures and functions. Companies forming in this era include GeneFormatics, ActivX, and Structural Bioinformatics. However, we soon realized that this was not enough; that drug targets must be validated by biology in order to “mine” them. In those early years, I was part of a genomics startup in San Diego called GeneFormatics, and we did some very interesting work with protein structure predictions. But like many other investigators, I think we might have lacked the crucial “gene to disease” piece required to use genomic data to create drugs. Even Craig Venter has said, “we have learned nothing from the (human) genome,” meaning that the realities of learning about health and disease are more complex than just understanding our genetic code.

Structural biology has always been a strong suit in San Diego, fueled by The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) work on behalf of the Protein Structure Initiative and the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego, which helps maintain the Protein Data Bank. High throughput protein structure companies Syrrx and Structural Genomics came on the scene in the late ’90s, along with the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Foundation (GNF) which is arguably the first translational research organization in San Diego.

The establishment of GNF, which brought big pharma literally to TSRI’s front yard, fueled another driving force in San Diego, known as … Next Page »

Mary Canady, Ph.D. is the founder of Comprendia, a firm specializing in helping biotechnology and life science companies grow through the creation, commercialization, and communication of value. Follow @

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