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21 October, 2019 - 20:46 By Tony Quested

Cambridge-California personalised medicine partners launch DNA treasure trail

A powerful new Cambridge-US collaboration is promising to revolutionise key areas of personalised healthcare.

Berkeley SkyDeck accelerator spin-out Genomelink has joined forces with Cambridge Science Park company Sano Genetics to pay consumers to donate their DNA.

The partners say this approach will significantly accelerate research progress in key disease areas. They will use the DNA data to research disorders such as psoriatic arthritis, diabetes, mental health and eczema, as well as rare diseases like muscular dystrophy. 

The CEO and co-founder of Genomelink, Tomohiro Takano, says this new partnership will transform drug discovery and accelerate the growth of personalised medicine – enabling large-scale genetic and medical research without sacrificing data privacy.

Under this partnership, consumers will get paid – up to $500 – for contributing their time and genetic data to medical research and will receive health benefits, including access to new treatments via clinical trials. 

In addition, participants will receive regular updates on the research they support and free personalised health and wellness reports based on their genetic profiles.

Genomelink is a web platform that enables consumers to upload their raw DNA report – for free – and discover more about their DNA identities and traits that go beyond ancestry. 

The consumer platform reveals more than 150 genetic traits in five categories – food and nutrition, personality, cognitive, fitness and physical traits.

Sano Genetics is a data-sharing platform where consumers submit their medical history and genetic data, which is matched with clinical studies that can benefit from their DNA. 

The biotech company, based at The Bradfield Centre, matches participants with research projects that offer free genome sequencing and opportunities to try new treatments via clinical trials. Genome sequencing can typically cost more than $1000.

Takano says unlike traditional genetic data sharing partnerships, Genomelink and Sano Genetics have created a transparent, secure platform which allows individuals to explicitly opt in or out of different studies – and make money while doing so.

“The process to submit your DNA is incredibly easy and fast,” said Takano. “Consumers can share as much – or as little information – as they wish. Once their DNA has been selected for research, consumers can then learn how to make money off their contribution.”

Several hundred Genomelink users have already contributed their DNA as part of a project to understand whether there is an interaction between genetics and common anti-inflammatories, such as Aspirin, in people with stomach ulcers.

Additionally, researchers conducting nonprofit studies at the University of Cambridge, the University of Liverpool, and Imperial College London are using this DNA data to research conditions like autism, stomach ulcers and autoimmune conditions.

Genomelink is backed by several investors, including Global Brain, Digital Garage, Sony Innovation Fund, IronFire Ventures and 500 Startups Japan. The company was launched in 2017 by three Japanese founders – Takano, Yuta Matsuda and Kensuke Numakura, who have worked in genomics for years including M3, Inc., DeNA, and P5, Inc., which was founded as a joint venture of SONY and Illumina.

Sano Genetics, which raised £500k in April, was founded by three PhD students from the University of Cambridge – Patrick Short, Charlotte Guzzo and William Jones.

• PHOTOGRAPH: CEO and co-founder of Genomelink, Tomohiro Takano

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