The first few years at NextBio were about serving research customers. Then came Big Pharma and biotech companies.
But now, as genomics has outpaced Moore’s Law in terms of speed and cost improvements, a new type of customer is sniffing around. Physician/scientists are suddenly leaning on NextBio’s software to comb through genomic reports in order to make decisions about personalized medical treatment. Done right, this kind of individualized experiment could build new knowledge for well-controlled studies in the future, and maybe could even help certain terminally ill patients in the here and now.
Cupertino, CA-based NextBio, which has helped scientists analyze DNA data since 2004, has seen this third type of customer emerge in the past few months. Essentially, sequencing of entire human genomes, or gathering other forms of genetic data, has gotten so fast and cheap that physicians at top medical centers, in some cases, are able to incorporate hard-core genetic analysis into last-ditch ideas for treatment. Once the doctor has used a DNA sequencing instrument to generate reams of data on the patient’s genetic profile, they need help merging that dataset with what’s known about other similar patients in the published scientific literature. Theoretically, this layering of information might help a doctor get an idea about how the individual’s tumor might respond to a certain combination of chemotherapy.
NextBio, a cash-flow positive company with 75 employees, already has a long list of academic and industrial customers for its biology software service. Those customers, including Merck, Amgen, and Pfizer, pay hefty annual licensing fees for NextBio software. The main idea is to help them find correlations between data in the public and private domains, says CEO Saeid Akhtari. But this new “translational research” service to physicians on a case-by-case basis, at $2,500 per patient for a single-day turnaround time, has become the fastest-growing revenue segment for NextBio.
By 2015, these individual genetic reports will likely represent a majority of the company’s business, Akhtari says.
“We see a new market emerging, that’s more translational. These are people with one foot in research and one foot in the clinic,” Akhtari says. “The need has always been there, but the cost is now low enough [physicians] can afford to generate the data on individual patients.”
This trend, which Akhtari’s co-founder Ilya Kupershmidt will be able to discuss at Xconomy’s “$1,000 Genome” event in San Francisco on Monday, October 24, raises some very interesting scientific and ethical questions. NextBio, for example, is careful to position this service as just added information for physician/scientists in their research, and emphasizes that it’s not intended to be a diagnostic tool—which would raise questions at the FDA about regulation. Many of the physicians who have started using the reports often need to team up with genetic counselors to help with interpreting the data, and communicating it to patients, to make sure there’s informed consent and no misplaced enthusiasm about where it might lead.
Here’s an example of how the system might work today. A patient with metastatic melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, might have a sample of their tumor … Next Page »