DNAnexus, which provides a cloud platform for governments, universities, doctors and pharmaceutical companies to tap into DNA and other clinical data sets and collaborate on scientific research projects, is today announcing a big step ahead in its efforts to grow its reach and purpose. The 10-year-old startup, originally spun out of Stanford’s school of medicine, has raised $100 million in funding.
The round, technically a Series G, is being co-led by Perceptive Advisors and Northpond Ventures (both specialist science and biotech investors), with participation also from previous backers GV (which has been around since almost the beginning), Foresite Capital, TPG Capital and First Round Capital. DNAnexus is also picking up a new strategic backer in this round: Regeneron Pharmaceuticals — one of several companies currently working on antibody therapies for COVID-19 recovery.
Indeed, the idea will be to use the funding to continue building out that platform and the use cases around it, specifically as research has boomed around the current coronavirus global health pandemic.
“This financing drives advancement of our data science technologies benefiting our rapidly growing customer base,” said Richard Daly, chief executive officer at DNAnexus, in a statement. “The next wave of biomedical insights and treatments will be driven by large-scale clinical, multi-omics, and real-world data resulting from cross-institutional collaborations. Our customers have continued to grow during the current COVID-19 epidemic using the virtual cloud workspace we provide. The trend toward cloud-based data analysis and collaboration is accelerating, and we are at the right place at the right time to future-proof and serve our customers.”
The funding is the biggest-ever round raised by DNAnexus, which prior to this had raised about $127 million with other investors, including Microsoft and Felicis, according to PitchBook data. It’s not disclosing a valuation, but we’re asking.
As some markers of where it’s sitting as a business, however, a spokesperson says that the platform is used by eight of the top 10 clinical diagnostics companies and seven of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, which use 10 million core processing hours each month and store 28 petabytes of data, a figure that has grown 70% annually in the last four years.
It has also inked some very notable partners. They include Regeneron Genetics Centre, which is using the DNAnexus interface to query data from the UK Biobank — an academic-run data trove based on genomic and clinical data from some 500,000 volunteer participants.
And it is working with government groups like the Food and Drug Administration to help it run a database it uses to collaborate and work with other organizations to help track genomic variation, an essential component of DNA-based medical research.
It’s been a rocky road for DNA and how it’s viewed by consumers in recent years. Once held up as a kind of Rosetta Stone to answer all the inscrutable questions we’ve ever had about how our bodies work, where we come from and who really did it, companies that offer DNA data to average people have more recently been in the spotlight over questions of ethics and data privacy. As a business, it also seems like some of the more prominent names in the space have found interest in the area waning.
DNAnexus sits adjacent but also quite separate from those currents. The company definitely got its start around the time that others like 23andMe were popularising the idea of democratising DNA information, but it has always had its roots in the more arcane but also more serious side of the DNA business and its challenges: how best to wrangle and query what are essentially very large and unwieldy datasets in order to glean actionable insights.
It’s also more than just about DNA, working with other large and often unstructured clinical data sets to help others in the field use the data more intelligently and with the correct privacy compliance in place (which is another kind of “intelligent” use of data), part of a bigger trend to develop medicines that are more attuned to individuals rather than one-size-fits-all solutions that often miss the mark, particularly in complex pathology, such as cancer care. Tapping into AI to build out therapies, it is one of the more cutting-edge, but also lucrative, areas in medicine today.
“The Precision Medicine market is poised to exceed $119 billion by 2026. Many pharmaceutical companies and medical centers are adopting strategies rooted in human genetics because evidence shows that the odds of a drug’s clinical success doubles if associated with specific biomarkers,” said Michael Rubin, MD, PhD, founder and CEO of Northpond Ventures, in a statement. “Providing the ecosystem with a tool to analyze and gain insights from all these massive datasets is a difficult undertaking. DNAnexus has a proven product that scales.”