Late last month, Ann Arbor-based Rubicon Genomics launched its new ThruPlex technology, which uses enzymology to repair and amplify DNA molecules in samples that were previously too small or too degraded to be tested. Rubicon CEO James Koziarz describes the technology as a front end for “next generation sequencing.” ThruPlex can be used with samples as small as 50 picograms of human DNA in a range of studies, including population studies and tests of samples in blood plasma or preservatives.
“There are lots of people out there who can amplify DNA,” Koziarz says, referring to the practice of multiplying or “amplifying” small samples of DNA so there’s enough material to use in analytical work. “The issue is, how do you do it with tiny amounts? We have a versatile toolbox to help clinicians get at what’s happening on the DNA level. At Rubicon, we’re looking at enabling technologies. We’re not going to be a Porsche—we’re going to be the gasoline that makes it run.”
The announcement caps off a busy year for the biotech startup. In late February, Rubicon announced that it had entered into a supply agreement with Agendia, which represents the first commercial clinical use of Rubicon’s technology. Agendia, which is a player in the field of personalized medicine, is interested in using Rubicon’s TransPlex whole-genome RNA amplification technology to augment its suite of breast cancer diagnostics tools. Rubicon’s technology will offer a look at the genes expressed in a patient’s tumor, which will give doctors clues on how treatment should proceed and whether they can offer hormone therapy customized to treat the tumor.
Rubicon Genomics was founded in 2000 to commercialize technology developed at the University of Michigan. Koziarz says that as the company targets research and clinical markets it has grown both in size and in terms of the the products it offers. It now has 12 employees and is increasing its focus on personalized medicine. “The problem with personalized medicine is, what does it mean?” Koziarz asks. “In 2000, the market wasn’t ready for single-cell amplification. What’s helped is that the market has moved there. We have the right product at the right time. We’re not teaching our customers what they need, they’re telling us.”
The deal with Agendia is a major step, Koziarz notes, because what Rubicon needs is clinical validation. Ultimately, he sees Rubicon as an attractive property for a larger company involved in global diagnostics. The company has weathered tough economic times and an often sluggish biotech sector, Koziarz says, but that only seems to add to his optimism about Rubicon’s future. By 2016, he says, the market for Rubicon’s technology could be worth $2.25 billion. “I’m very proud of these guys—the tough times are paying off,” Koziarz adds. “This company has a lot of different things launching. ThruPlex is just the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t addressed all the market opportunities for our technology, but we’re going to use our partners, like Agendia, to get there.”