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Sequence To Analyze Genetic Data

Tyler Wish and Chris Gardner, two members of the bustling St. John’s startup community, are teaming up to form Sequence Bioinformatics, a new company dedicated to analyzing genetic data for the prevention of diseases.

The pair of entrepreneurs said in an interview in St. John’s recently that the company is in the discovery phase. But they have already made considerable headway, licensing a genetic dataset and making contact with an analytics partner.

“Sequence is an early-stage medical technology company that is aiming to develop tests that help with the detection, prevention and treatment of human ailments,” said Wish, seated in his office at the Genesis Centre at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

The company’s goal is to develop a kit that would allow health-care professionals to determine whether individuals have a low, medium or high risk of developing a certain disease. That allows health-care systems to filter out people that don’t need to be screened, and be extra vigilant with high-risk patients.

Wish and Gardner are planning a first application that would help to determine whether people need cancer screening, which costs anywhere between $1,000 and $9,000 per screening.

“One hundred and fifty million people in the U.S. are in the 45 to 70 age range and are recommended to enroll in screening,” said Wish. He added that the risks of colon cancer in these people range from negligible to guaranteed, yet everyone is advised to be screened, costing the U.S. greater than $10 billion a year.

“Another thing is colon cancer is the most hereditary form of cancer.”

Sequence is working toward an agreement to license a data set on the founder population of Newfoundland from Memorial University — one of the world’s finest data sets of its kind with more than one billion points of data. (In this case, founder population refers to the many Newfoundlanders who have lived there for generations and who have distinct genetic markers.)

And Sequence is also in talks with a California big data company, which Wish described as “the most exciting data analytics company in the world.”

They hope to use the California company’s analytic capabilities to assess the data in the founder population. Within six to eight months, they hope to validate that the system they’re working on can assess the risks of colon cancer in individuals.

They then expect it would take as long as two years to complete further clinical work and receive regulatory approval for a product in the U.S. If successful, they believe the same methodology could apply to ameliorating other afflictions, such as arthritis, obesity and diabetes.

Gardner said the company decided to raise a small round of funding about four weeks ago and has already received interest from angel investors in St. John’s of $75,000. With additional funding from the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program and the Research and Development Corporation of Newfoundland, they expect to have a total funding round of $250,000.

Wish has been working in medical research entrepreneurship for a few years as the CEO of Research Avenue, which performs clinical research services.

Research Avenue is now being taken over by a larger contract research organization based in Montreal. It is an all-equity transaction, designed to bring the resources of the larger company in to help Research Avenue grow. Wish will remain involved with the organization and Research Avenue will become its Atlantic Canadian genetic research arm. He noted that Sequence will be a completely separate entity from the contract research organization.

Gardner is best known for overseeing Common Ground, the new co-working space that will soon open in St. John’s.