California’s Silicon Valley is synonymous with elite high-tech companies. Recently, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm invested $3 million in a local company named Sequence Bio, marking the first time an Atlantic Canadian Company attracted investment from the famed Silicon Valley.
Sequence Bio is an NL biotech company leading a 100,000 person genome sequencing project. Human genome sequencing is the act of figuring out the complete genetic code that makes up the entirety of our DNA. Human genes for certain traits – like eye colour, or a healthy heart – are composed of 4 letters, arranged in a very specific order. The same way we recognize G-E-N-E spells gene, a series of nucleotides like ACGTTGTCAAGT “spells out” specific genetic information for our cells to read and act on.
Sequencing and cracking our genetic code allows us to identify and remedy flaws in genetic codes – flaws that result in genetic diseases and health issues. Sequence Bio is looking to improve the ways we treat certain diseases and even cancers. They’re interested in developing newer, better, more cost-effective drugs and therapies.
Until now, drug discovery has relied on animal models or cellular models, not direct human genome studies like theirs. As a result, companies spend millions testing new drugs on rats in labs, not truly knowing how these substances will work in a human until we run a trial. It’s dangerous and expensive and wasteful: 90% of all compounds that go into clinical trial will fail. But Sequence Bio’s human-based, real-world study will create better end products with less costs and risk, and better outcomes.
While scientists have been making breakthroughs in human genome studies since 2003, technologies that now exist did not exist back then, and it’s this pairing of human genome study breakthroughs and new technologies that Sequence Bio intend to marry to great success. In short, they can generate more data, and dive more deeply into it.
Newfoundland happens to be the perfect place for a study like this: we were an isolated island for hundreds of years, so our population’s genetic code is less diverse and complicated than mainland Canada’s. Think of it this way: we have a smaller gene pool to wade through, making us ideal for a study like theirs.
We also happen to have a great medical history system in place, so, with permission to access our medical information, Sequence Bio’s study can help us understand how a patient got breast cancer, or glaucoma.
Their project is one of the world’s biggest, most ambitious human genome sequencing projects. That’s relevant to each and every Newfoundlander & Labradorian, because their study can strengthen our provincial healthcare system, and, reduce its economic burden on our bank, by improving healthcare, patient outcomes, and policies.
The study will also deal with rare diseases on the island. Because of our limited genepool, we have higher-than-normal rates of rare genetic diseases on the island, such as Congenital Indifference to Pain (worse than it sounds, pain prevents injuries: imagine not knowing a knife is cutting your hand), and ARVC, a rare genetic heart disorder.
The local company is still getting the project off the ground, and are in fact looking for people to volunteer to be part of the 100,000 people study, and they’re not asking much of them. Sign up at their website, http://www.sequencebio.co.