Dr. Tyler Wish (left) and Chris Gardner of Sequence Bio are celebrating. The company just received a $3-million commitment from U.S.-based Data Collective Venture Capital, marking a rare cross-border injection into a startup in the province.
In a boardroom inside Common Ground in St. John’s, Dr. Tyler Wish pulled up an image on his phone and laid it on the table.
The screen showed a smattering of dots, clustered into spheres on a black background.
“Imagine that represents every breast cancer patient in Newfoundland. Every point is a patient and every patient is represented by three billion data points,” he said, attempting to make clear some of the work of Sequence Bio, the company Wish co-founded with Chris Gardner.
The company just received a US$3 million commitment from U.S.-based Data Collective Venture Capital, marking a rare cross-border injection into a startup in the province.
Wish pointed to his phone. In this data visualization, he suggested, the dots closest together would represent people with similar breast tissues and profiles.
“This is not connected to the network,” he said, circling a relatively far-flung cluster with a fingertip. “Is this a different kind of biology that we should look into and understand and develop new treatments for?”
The business of Sequence Bio has been steadily gaining momentum.
Over the last six months, the company expanded from two founders to more than a dozen staff.
It added Killick Capital president Mark Dobbin and Team Broken Earth founder Dr. Andrew Furey to its board of directors; finalized a licensing agreement with Memorial University of Newfoundland, allowing it use of university data sets for research purposes and saw company co-founder Wish named a national “Innovation Leader” by federal minister for Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains.
In 2015, Sequence Bio was the first company to see investment from the new Venture Newfoundland and Labrador fund (supported in part by the province). That $300,000 was announced along with a separate $200,000 committed by Toronto-based investment firm Klister Credit Corp.
And the investor list has grown, with Data Collective Venture Capital the latest addition.
“That’s obviously, from a corporate development perspective, a big win — not just for us, but for Newfoundland,” Wish said.
The company is looking to reach two-dozen staff by the end of the year.
Sequence Bio wants to become a player in early-stage pharmaceutical development — using sets of detailed genomic data, paired with clinical information, to investigate biological anomalies, then identify and paint specific targets for drug developers.
The pharmaceutical industry is beyond plucking low-hanging fruit, Wish said. It is well known a new drug might take a decade and a billion dollars to develop. And there are failures. Perhaps it’s less effective for some people? Are certain patients are more susceptible to side effects, even when there was no evidence in relatively generic early trials?
Sequence Bio will use a growing collection of data, processed in partner data analysis systems, to better understand the biological factors at play.
“We need to embrace complexity and understand it, in order to identify and develop more, safer medications,” Wish said.
At this point, Sequence Bio is collecting more data to work with. The company is looking to have 100,000 volunteers from Newfoundland and Labrador participating in their research — to make this province one of the best understood, from a genetic perspective, in the world.
Genetic testing has been widely marketed online, in some cases solely for personal interest. Gardner said instead of one of those companies making use of your data, Sequence Bio is offering a more detailed profile, identification of serious disease risk factors and — while profiles are kept separate from contributor names — the chance for you to be informed of discoveries made through the company’s work relevant to you and your health.
“This model is unique, in that it is a true partnership between us, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and our health-care system,” he said.
“The way I characterize it is we’ve spent a few years now setting the right conditions to do something really meaningful for industry and patient care and healthcare outcomes in the province. Now it’s almost like a proof of concept, it’s operationalize this and if we’re successful there, over the next 12 or 18 months, we’ll be in really good shape to raise significant financing, somewhere in the range of $50-$75 million.”