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ARM Innovation Hub
9 October, 2017 - 14:17 By Tony Quested

£2m target as Barcelona genomics business sets up in Cambridge

Maria Chatzou Lifebit

A Spanish genomics technology startup has established a presence in Cambridge and is seeking to raise £2 million as a springboard to international growth.

Lifebit has created what it believes to be “the world’s first intelligent genomic platform” for biodata analysis.

Cambridge entrepreneur Professor Alan Barrell has become a director and chairman of the ambitious ‘Software as a Service’ enterprise.

Co-founders Maria Chatzou, the CEO, and Pablo Prieto, who is CSO and CTO, have already relocated to Cambridge. Both PhDs in Bioinformatics, they have had years of experience in the world-renowned Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona.

Still only a few months old Lifebit has already received a Techstars Award of €120K and a place in the Techstars London Accelerator. Lifebit’s target customers are blue chip companies across the pharmaceutical, biotech, healthcare, crop science, biofuels, animal health, cosmetics and food sectors.

The new money to be raised will be used to establish Lifebit as a recognised Software as a Service provider and build the team to enable rapid international expansion. 

Chatzou says that currently over 100 major companies and research institutions worldwide and four of the world’s top 10 Big Pharma enterprises – including Roche, Gentech, and Unilever – are using this open source language. They present just the first group of intended target customers.

The founders have been instrumental in taking Cambridge to Barcelona. Before founding Lifebit they worked with Marek Tyl and Cambridge-based founders of The Innovation Forum and successfully set up Innovation Forum Barcelona.

They decided that Cambridge was the “best place in the world for us to be based” for a business that had developed open source software already widely used by bioinformaticians. 

Maria stressed the move to Cambridge was unrelated to political unrest in Catalonia. “Cambridge has always been our goal for a presence from which to build the international business and we see that as clearly as ever – Brexit or no Brexit,” she said. 

“The facilities, excellent science, availability of resources and the favourable investment climate for a bioinformatics company are second to none in the world.”

Pablo Prieto LifebitPablo added: “Cambridge will increasingly become a leading world centre for our kind of business and our kind of people.” 

The bioinformatics market alone generates over $6 billion revenues with explosive growth forecast to reach $16bn by 2020.

Maria said: “Due to the rapid drop of costs in sequencing technology and the need to personalise products based on the genetic profile of individuals, we are now generating more DNA data than we can analyse.
“A solution to cope with this vast amount of data is required – and that solution is Lifebit. Lifebit enables scientists, R & D and medical professionals to deliver DNA analysis at scale.

“During our PhDs, we worked on a new open-source programming language for genomics. Our open-solution is now used by half of the world’s organisations doing DNA analysis at scale, and four of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies.

“This open-source solution has created the foundation for the industry. Yet companies still need to build custom software and hardware on top of it. This takes a lot of money, time and exceptional talent.

“Lifebit changes this: it is the world’s first intelligent genomics platform that understands DNA data and generates meaningful insights like humans do at scale. This makes generating DNA insights at least 10x cheaper and 30x faster than anything that exists today.”

• PHOTOGRAPHS SHOW: Lifebit CEO Maria Chatzou (top) and co-founder, CSO and CTO Pablo Prieto


The  Center  for Genomic Regulation  (CRG)  is  the  owner  of  the  Nextflow  open-source framework. Dr. Chatzou and Dr. Prieto worked  on  it  during their  PhDs in CRG along with Paolo Di Tommaso,  Evan W Floden,  Emilio Palumbo and Dr. Cedric  Notredame. See Nat Biotechnol. 2017 Apr  11;35(4):316-319. doi:  10.1038/nbt.3820. “Nextflow enables reproducible computational workflows.”

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