GMI hopes to build Ireland’s first full-service genomics laboratory
Genomics Medicine Ireland (GMI) has raised $40 million in a Series A round led by Alphabet’s venture capital vehicle, GV, and also included ARCH Venture Partners, Polaris Partners, and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.
The sum will be used to hire more workers and expand research and development facilities in genomics, also known as “precision medicine.” GMI was founded in 2015 by two doctors and two venture capitalists.
The Ireland-wide project will take blood samples from participants (with requisite disclaimers about anonymity to preserve patient privacy) and, for now, send the sample abroad for sequencing as Ireland does not have a lab yet capable of doing this work.
The Series A money will go towards setting up just a site in Dublin to do all phases of the work. The company also expects to soon begin collaborating with Irish universities, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies.
The Irish operation is modeled on an earlier nationwide project in Iceland, which was supported by Amgen, one of the initial investors in GMI. Such large sample sizes are necessary to better model variations in the human genome, first mapped in 2003. “To explain the vast genomic differences across populations,” notes Med Device Online, “researchers will need to conduct experiments at an unprecedented scale.”
(Such large sums are also necessary, as the Icelandic project, deCODE, struggled financially despite its successes and was saved from bankruptcy by ARCH Venture and Polaris.)
Genomics has significant potential to develop targeted genetic therapies for patients, though much work needs to be done to apply this work to broader populations, as well as expand the ancestral bases across the populations to be more representative of people’s varied ethnicities.
Within the next few years, scientists from a consortium of MIT, Harvard, and the Wellcome Trust hope to also create a Human Cell Atlas for reference purposes across the international genomics field. This is new territory according to the group, noting that only, “A few years ago, measuring this complex and extensive information would have been impossible”, and now, “recent technological advances in the field of single-cell genomics can separate individual cells from different tissues and organs.”
Making this data more accessible to researchers is a key component of other ongoing projects, such as those focusing on cancer treatment including a project to bring IBM Watson’s computing power to tumor research in the US.