San Diego’s reputation as a biotech innovation leader has received a ringing endorsement from The Scientist, a highly regarded life science magazine.
Five of the magazine’s top 10 innovations for 2014 — including the first-place product — came from San Diego companies. And four of them came from the fast-growing field of genomics, where San Diego dominates.
La Jolla’s Edico Genome took first place for its Dragen Bio-IT Processor. The add-on card accelerates the analysis of genomic data by a factor of 30, says Pieter van Rooyen, Edico’s president and chief executive. It can be installed in a standard computer server.
The award is “a testimony to our team and the work they’ve put in,” van Rooyen said.
Advances in genomics are uncovering the root causes of previously mysterious and untreatable diseases, allowing a growing number of therapies to reach patients. San Diego’s Illumina is generally regarded as the leader in genome sequencing, with the Carlsbad operations of Thermo Fisher Scientific in second place.
Genome sequencers from Illumina, the MiSeqDX and HiSeq X Ten, respectively took second and third place. The MiSeq is the first next-generation gene sequencer approved for clinical use. The HiSeq is the first machine to bring the cost of sequencing a human genome below $1,000, in large quantities.
“Illumina is honored to be recognized for the innovations that have enabled such dramatic growth in next-generation DNA sequencing (NGS) applications,” said Kirk Malloy, senior vice president and general manager of genomic solutions, by email.
The IrysChip structural genome analyzer from BioNano Genomics took fourth place. The non-genomics winner from San Diego, Organovo’s exVive3D human liver tissue, took seventh place. The tissue can be used for drug screening to detect toxicity problems before testing in people.
The innovative dominance of San Diego biotech illustrates the creative power of the area’s biotech industry, said Joe Panetta, chief executive of Biocom, the San Diego-based life science trade group. Traditional rankings made by the number of companies or total employees, don’t capture that creativity, Panetta said.
“To me, that’s an old-school way of looking at the strength of a life science cluster,” Panetta said. “When I look at this, and I see these five of 10 companies, with these very forward-looking areas of research, I think it says a lot more about our life science cluster relative to the others. In a way, it’s a vindication about what we think about San Diego. We don’t think so much about (having) the headquarters of large pharma or biotech companies, we think of San Diego as a place we do the most cutting-edge research to develop the products of the future.”
A panel of five judges selected by The Scientist chose among nearly 50 nominations to form their list. Companies from around the world were eligible to enter, said Bob Grant, a senior editor at the San Francisco-based magazine. To be eligible, products had to be first released into the market between Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 16 of this year
The Scientist told the judges it selected to look for products that had the greatest ability to help scientists do their work, said David J. Ecker, one of the five and a co-founder of Carlsbad’s Isis Pharmaceuticals. Ecker said the judges did not confer before making their choices, and he himself didn’t know that Edico was located in La Jolla.
The other judges were Miriam Bayes, asset owner of life sciences products at Thomson Reuters; Tara Rock, manager of the Genomics Core Facility at New York University’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology; Eric Schadt, director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at New York City’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; and Kim Kamdar, managing partner in the San Diego office of Domain Associates, a life science-oriented venture capital firm.
Edico’s Dragen processor eases a growing bottleneck in genomics, Ecker said. Genome sequence data is being generated at an accelerating rate, but the machinery to analyze and make sense of the data has not kept up.
“As Illumina makes great strides with making sequencing better, cheaper, faster and more accessible, the bottleneck moves to other places, and crunching the data is one of those key places,” Ecker said.
The IrysChip from BioNano Genomics also fits into that model of data-crunching. It looks for high-level structural components of the genome, which can’t be detected just through reading a DNA sequence. These sequences are often obtained by chopping DNA into fragments, sequencing the fragments individually, and then reassembling them by computer. BioNano Genomics says this method can miss important elements of the genetic map. Its method processes longer pieces of DNA, which it says preserves the genomic architecture.
Organovo’s exVive3D human liver is a three-dimensional assemblage of various cell types found in the liver. The company says this structure more accurately reflects natural liver structure than does two-dimensional cultures of just one type of cells. Organovo says its tissue performs many of the metabolic functions of the liver, such as making cholesterol.
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