Helping your DNA to help your doctor help you
StoreGene wants your whole genome to reveal more insights, faster and cheaper
That was the sentiment across UK tech yesterday morning as it emerged at 7am that HSBC was buying Silicon Valley Bank UK for a pound and essentially saving a chunk of the country’s tech sector.
Exactly how many of the kind of early-stage startups covered by PreSeed Now bank with SVB UK isn’t entirely clear, but the lack of rescue would have affected enough companies and investors large and small to leave a huge crater in the tech sector.
The deal also means today’s edition isn’t the emergency edition I thought I might have to produce, but instead a profile of another interesting startup. So again… phew.
StoreGene operates in the whole genome sequencing space, and despite being on paper certainly the oldest company we’ve ever covered here, is very much a startup in all the ways that matter.
Read on, and as usual, PreSeed Now members get the full story…
StoreGene offers more personalised healthcare value from your whole genome
“To truly deliver precision medicine”: that’s the vision StoreGene CEO Mark Bartlett has for his startup.
“It's about understanding the individual that's in front of you and making the decision that's best for them.”
London-based StoreGene’s technology is designed to gain what it describes as “infinite insights from one test”. In practice, this means taking a saliva sample, sequencing the patient’s whole genome, and then using that to provide personalised insights that allow a healthcare provider to better tailor treatments to the individual.
Bartlett says it’s all about “understanding the variation of where my blueprint is different to your blueprint.
“Helping to understand which medication is going to work for me versus you, whether I'm going to get an adverse reaction, whether you will have a good response, whether I’m predisposed to high cholesterol levels and you’re not, or whether you might be predisposed to breast cancer, and I’m not.”
A digital genome
While genetic tests are already an important part of healthcare, what StoreGene does is look at data from an individual’s entire genome, rather than results of a specific test looking at a subsection of that genome. And then rather than having to take multiple tests in the future, clinicians can request insights from that single genome dataset whenever they need them.
The startup works with private healthcare providers to identify patients who could benefit from whole genome sequencing, collecting their consent, and conducting the tests. The resulting data is then uploaded to StoreGene’s bioinformatics platform, which can generate reports to aid with a specific patient’s care.
Clinicians can choose from a library of reports, which Bartlett says can then be generated in 10 minutes. Examples of how this data can then be used include cardiovascular care:
“There are polygenic risk scores that look at multiple points across your genome, and combine with your conventional factors like cholesterol levels, age, height, and gender, to give an accurate picture of your likelihood of having a heart attack in the next 10 years. And then actionable insights on what you can do to prevent your risk of a heart attack, be that lifestyle, or more intervention with using statins, which are medications that can reduce your cholesterol.”
Other conditions StoreGene can run reports for include a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia.
“We can look for variations in well defined genes that are known to cause an individual to have high cholesterol than the rest of the population… and then, depending on the genes that are involved in that process, can recommend how severe the treatment needs to be, whether lifestyle advice, or statins, or apheresis,” Bartlett says.
StoreGene brought its offering to market last year. It is now building a client base of private healthcare providers and exploring NHS opportunities, initially focused on cardiology.
The 19-year-old early-stage startup
A scan of StoreGene’s own company DNA reveals it’s actually a much older company reborn as a startup.
Originally incorporated 19 years ago as a spinout from University College London, it has a long history of providing genetic tests to the private healthcare market. Bartlett says the company didn’t raise external investment during this period. And as with so many other areas of life, the Covid pandemic prompted a pivot.
“We re-strategised and started putting together all the learnings and the actual value that we bring in the cardiovascular world,” says Bartlett who first joined the company initially to do business development in 2020.
“How can we apply that to the entire genome, your whole dataset, and enable other researchers in different fields from diabetes, oncology, neurology… to be able to package up their genetic research and apply that to whole genome data to glean clinical insights that can really actionable and impact a patient's health.”
And so despite its age on paper, StoreGene operates like a very early-stage startup. Bartlett says there are “one and a half people” working on it full-time, with contractors bringing the headcount up to 15. The company’s original founders, Steve Humphries and Dan Brown, are still involved, sitting on the board.
As part of its new approach, StoreGene has taken part in the P4SY accelerator and is currently going through KQ Labs, an accelerator programme run by biomedical research organisation the Francis Crick Institute, and is currently gearing up for its demo day on 28 March.
Bartlett's journey to heading up StoreGene began with him studying Pharmacogenetics at UCL. Following that, he founded a genetic analysis startup called Geneix.
“It was about integrating pharmacogenetics into electronic prescribing tools. We got some Innovate UK funding, got onto accelerator programmes, but we just got resounding feedback from the market that genetic sequencing was just too early back in 2012.”
After spending a few years working with patient engagement platform startup DrDoctor, Bartlett says he learned a lot about digital health but felt the urge to get back into the genetics space.
“Genomics has classically been seen as a laboratory, biochemical problem, but actually, it's a data problem. The whole genome, once it's been sequenced, is a 90GB file with 3.2 billion bases, and how we can interrogate that and bring out insights doesn't need to be done in a laboratory in a wet test environment. We need to be able to do that in silico.”
Investment, competition, vision, and challenges ahead
Going deeper on StoreGene for PreSeed Now members:
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