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Under the Radar: Raindrops on Roses

Time to appreciate some of the incremental advances and ideas that together will usher in the age of personalized medicine. Favorite thing by favorite thing — that’s how the world changes. So move over Julie Andrews.

Research-wise, a major favorite thing is seeing a real step in making gene therapy actually work – a decades-long dream for many of us. Looks like British scientists have had preliminary success in treating Hemophilia B by injecting patients with the correct form of a defective gene. This is exciting news (in time for the holidays!) for those suffering from hemophilia. It has good implications, too, for those living with and working on diseases that have not-so-good histories with gene therapy.

Very nice to contemplate, too, is a new venture involving Stanford’s Atul Butte, MD, PhD. I’ve mentioned Atul before, but just because he’s a friend doesn’t mean he’s not a star — he’s been pioneering the development of scientific tools that leverage genetic data to improve clinical care for years. He and a dream team — Russ Altman, MD, PhD; Euan Ashley, MD, PhD; Michael Snyder, PhD; and John West — have started a cool new company, Personalis, dedicated to bridging the gap between personal genetics and clinical medicine.

In terms of company ideas, again, I’m going with the importance of the incremental, and the importance of providing value to customers and financial success to investors. The back–to-basics approach that companies like Enzymatics, Cell Signaling and abpro are offering is refreshing. Watch for companies that can bootstrap, or that can subsist on only “angel round” investment without heavy infusions of cash to make it. A template for great start-ups? New England Biolabs. It started decades ago, and is still going strong.

Playing to your strengths is key, and the McKernan family is excellent at identifying and building value. Keep your eye onCourtagen Life Science, where father and sons Richard, Brian, and Brendan McKernan are Managing Partners and Board Members (Richard is Chair). The current team built Agencourt, and bought part of Genome Therapeutics. They also identified George Church’s polony technology (key for next gen sequencing) and parleyed that into a value-added sale to Applied Biosystems and Beckman Agencourt. So far, they have developed protein immunoassays for point-of-care diagnostic and contract research markets, and they recently launched a biomarker discovery effort. Knowing them, they have plenty of plans for the future.

And then there are the unsung heroes.

Kudos to Morten Winger (and John Lindsay) for discovering and developing the value in Halo Genomics. They built value with their next gen sequencing sample preparation product, stayed under the radar, and sold quickly to Agilent. I have lots of faith in Mike Irwin, Director of Genomics, Americas Field Operations at Agilent and his team’s ability to capitalize on that new line. By the way, Morton and John did the same thing with ProXeon, which sold to Thermo. Can’t wait to see their next act.

Another win for Mike Lucero, the father of Real Time PCR marketing. He’s succeeded at TaqMan, then at Fluidigm (went public this year) then at QuantaLife (sold to Bio-Rad). It’s been a brilliant run that even includes a break to lead Stokes Biosciences (which in April was stealthily sold to Life Tech). What will Mike do next?

Ruth Kaucher is one to watch. After a great career at Applied Biosystems, she moved to Beckman Coulter Genomics to build their genomics services group. But it just got more interesting. She is now VP of NA sales for BGI, a Broad-Institute-like Asian not-for-profit to which many big conservative pharm companies are already outsourcing their sequencing. BGI gave an impressive presentation at ASHG about focusing a worldwide effort to identify gastric cancer genes for the Cancer Genome project. We have all heard the China “sleeping giant” story; now it will be fascinating to see if BGI moves into a genomics scientific leadership role worldwide.

My last personal favorite for the day is woman-with-a-mission Linda Avey. After co-founding 23andMe then setting up a very powerful Alzheimer’s consortium at BU with Bob Green, she is now the CEO of Curious, Inc. Aren’t you?

If that’s not a list that beats whiskers on kittens, I don’t know what is.

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