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16 May, 2018 - 13:33 By Tony Quested

Saliva test DNA company expands globally after $100k US boost

A Cambridge startup with claims to be the world’s first direct-to-consumer epigenetic testing company using saliva is expanding globally with a proposition that blends the latest in AI, epigenetics research and next generation sequencing technology.

Chronomics Ltd is tracking users’ changing health and wellbeing by harnessing the epigenetic information found on their DNA.

Backed by a Silicon Valley VC firm, Chronomics has also clinched $100k accelerator funding to underpin its international market ambitions and is set to trigger a fresh spurt of recruitment.

The fledgling business was launched only last December by a quartet of Cambridge PhDs who have made a jet-heeled rise from academia to a frenzied start to commercial life.

Chronomics already has sales in six countries and on two continents – Europe and North America – and plans to expand into Asia in the near future.

CEO Tom Stubbs told Business Weekly that interest was also growing from leading pharmaceutical companies, leading retail businesses and top insurers globally.

In the coming three months Chronomics will recruit a further three people, including a marketing expert, a software engineer and a data scientist.

Epigenetics is the study of how genes are controlled and affects gene expression. Epigenetic changes are a regular and natural occurrence but can also be influenced by several factors including environmental ones such as pollution and UV exposure plus lifestyle factors such as exercise, diet and sleep. 

It is these marks that Chronomics measures and monitors so individuals can understand their epigenetic makeup and how it can be influenced by these factors. With this knowledge, people can change their lifestyles accordingly to optimise their health. 

Stubbs said: “Epigenetic changes can be harmless, for example where cells differentiate to form skin cells, liver cells or brain cells. But epigenetic change can also have more damaging effects that can result in diseases like cancer and other human disorders. It is these changes that we will be able to manage better by analysing and understanding our epigenetic data and making proactive choices about our future. 

“The benefits of using epigenetics to manage aspects of our lives are enormous. The insights from the data gives people the ability to directly tackle many physical and mental disorders, including metabolic diseases, inflammation, mental wellbeing, chronic stress, fatigue and obesity.

“A healthier population means a healthier workforce, so employers have more productive staff and less sick leave and this in turn feeds into a healthier economy. It signals good news for the health services, too, as healthier individuals relieve the stress on limited resources.”

Accelerator program $100k funding from US-based global venture capital player SOSV came at a crucial stage for the young business. 

Each year SOSV invests in 150 carefully selected companies through its internationally recognised vertical accelerator programmes. Typically it provides startups with seed capital, a specialised global staff of engineers, designers, and scientists to accelerate product development, mentors with deep market and technical expertise and an unparalleled infrastructure of fully outfitted laboratory and maker spaces. 

SOSV has also opened up international channels for the company, providing introductions to investors and other partners across the globe. 

Stubbs said: “At Chronomics our mission is to ensure that you understand how your environment is impacting on your epigenetic information and how this pertains to your disease risks. 

“We welcome a future where informed, proactive and personalised interventions are commonplace and reactive interventions can become a last resort.

“For certain environmental factors, this personalised, proactive and preventative approach to health is already here. We know that alcohol and folate intake, two known cancer risk factors, are associated with changes to the epigenome. 

“Physical exercise and a low-fat diet have both been shown to reduce recurrence rates through potentially epigenetic mechanisms. In addition, epigenetic risk factors may also be mitigated by dietary intake of classes of vegetables known to contain anti-cancerous compounds. 

“Isothiocyanates found in broccolis and water cress are known to inhibit epigenetic proteins called HDACs in cancerous cells.” 

Co-founder Toby Call, added: “DNA-based health tests were pioneered over the last decade. But aside from interesting titbits about morbidity risks that you can’t alter, ancestry you mostly already know, and what type of earwax you have, genetic tests are fundamentally limited by the fact that your DNA by and large does not change. 

“Chronomics is adding a time axis to make DNA testing relevant to the present and future. We are the first company worldwide to offer epigenetic testing, building an AI based platform to leverage the predictive power of DNA methylation biomarkers. 

“This will be the first of the ‘actionable omics’ that will drive the next generation of personalised deep health management.” 

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Senior team members at Chronomics Ltd

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