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Xconomy Forum Rides Wave of Big Data/Big Bio Startups in San Diego

Xconomy San Diego — 

As the Xconomy Forum on Big Data Meets Big Biology draws near, one of the best arguments for understanding the significance of the convergence of data science and the life sciences may lie in what came out of the 2013 sale of San Diego’s EcoATM.

Founded by several veterans of the wireless semiconductor industry, EcoATM created a business where there wasn’t one for recycling smartphones and other electronic devices. The company developed automated kiosks that would scan a device and use analytic software to calculate what it was worth and how much of a rebate to offer for it. When Outerwall paid $350 million in cash to acquire EcoATM, it was one of the biggest deals in years for a San Diego tech startup.

So w­­­hat emerged from EcoATM?

Three people who were part of the core team that started EcoATM all went on to found new companies at the intersection of big data and big biology:

Pieter van Rooyen, one of three original co-founders at EcoATM, became the founding CEO of Edico Genome, a San Diego company that developed a specialized bioinformatics processor and related technology to accelerate the analysis of genome-sequencing data. In 2017, Edico adapted its technology for use with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other cloud platforms, which made it far easier to set up its service for biomedical institutes. The change dramatically increased the scalability of Edico’s services. In October, for example, Edico, AWS, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia announced they had successfully processed 1,000 whole pediatric genomes in two hours and 25 minutes, claiming a Guinness World Record for fastest time to analyze 1,000 human genomes.

Mark Bowles, another EcoATM founder, helped start Truvian Sciences, a still-stealthy San Diego startup founded in 2015 (as Salveo DX) to develop liquid biopsy technology for use in diagnostics. The founding team includes Bowles, van Rooyen, and Bala Manian, the Indian-born Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and an expert in electro-optics. Kim Kamdar, a Domain Associates managing partner who initially served as Truvian’s CEO, turned over those duties in January to Jeff Hawkins, a former vice president and general manager for reproductive and genetic health at San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN).

—Drew Spaventa, who joined EcoATM as an early employee, said he co-founded Singular Genomics in San Diego to advance gene sequencing technology developed by Jingyue Ju, a professor of chemical engineering and pharmacology at Columbia University. Ju’s lab has pioneered methods for using fluorescing molecular tags in DNA sequencing. Spaventa, who also invested in Edico Genome and Truvian, said he initially wanted only to invest in a genome sequencing startup. But after he asked David L. Barker, a former Illumina chief scientific officer, to review Ju’s technology, Barker asked him, “Drew, do you want to start a company together?” They were joined by Eli Glezer, an expert in electrochemical luminescence who was previously the chief technology officer at Maryland-based Meso Scale Diagnostics, and raised $4 million in seed funding in less than a year, Spaventa said.

The list of San Diego startups focused on big data and big biology doesn’t end there.

Genalyte, which has raised $92 million to advance its diagnostics technology, hired a former Facebook executive as president in December. Seqster, led by former Pathway Genomics executive Ardy Arianpour, recently disclosed that it has raised $4 million in seed funding to aggregate genomic, health, and fitness data. Luna DNA is using blockchain technology to build a genome database that can be tapped by biomedical scientists. Lynx Biosciences moved to San Diego earlier this year from Wisconsin to advance its cancer diagnostics technology. There’ also Epic Sciences, Biocept, CureMatch, CureMetrix, and more.

Other companies, such as Cue and Omniome, have tried to maintain a lower profile in San Diego. Still others, like Helix, a consumer-focused spinout from Illumina, maintain dual citizenship with offices in both Northern California and San Diego. Another example is NantKwest, one of several companies affiliated with the biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, with offices in Culver City, CA, and San Diego.

Many of these startup leaders are part of our agenda at the Xconomy Forum on Big Data Meets Big Biology—along with venture investors who specialize in the convergence of healthcare with advanced computing technologies, and scientists who are at the vanguard of research in the field. Many more will be in the audience, participating in the conversation and networking afterward.

To join the conversation at Xconomy’s half-day forum, which begins at 1:30 pm on Thursday, April 26 at the Illumina Theater at The Alexandria, you can find more information and online registration here.

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