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9 April, 2019 - 08:33 By Kate Sweeney

Cambridge genetics startup raises £500k seed cash

Cambridge startup Sano Genetics – formerly Heterogeneous – has raised £500k seed funding for an innovative research platform tipped to transform drug discovery and accelerate the growth of personalised medicine. 

The young UK technology business will enable large-scale genetic and medical research without sacrificing data privacy – by putting the patient in the driving seat.

The Sano platform is powering research into many common disorders such as eczema, diabetes and depression, as well as rare diseases like muscular dystrophy. Its people-centric approach has attracted more than 1,500 participants in its first year and participants have contributed tens of thousands of pieces of data.

Sano aims to enrol more than 10,000 people and support half a dozen new research projects by the end of this year. 

The seed funding has come from Seedcamp, Cambridge Enterprise, the family office of Paul Forster, Will Neale, Jon Folland, Gordon Ashworth, Ramesh Haridas and Daniel Murrell, along with grant funding from the University of Cambridge, the Wellcome Genome Campus BioData Innovation Centre and the Y Combinator Startup School.

“We want to build the platform that will make personalised medicine a reality,” said CEO Patrick Short.

Unlike traditional genetic data sharing companies, Sano has created what it describes as a ‘transparent’ platform which allows individuals to opt in or out of different studies and share as much or as little information as they wish. 

Short said: “We are passionate about the potential for personalised medicine based on genetic and health data. But we are uncomfortable with all the uncertainty around privacy policies and data ownership from the big direct-to-consumer sequencing companies.

“Our platform allows scientists to do research into personalised medicine, and access dynamic health and genetic data sets, while still giving individuals transparency and control throughout the process. 

“This is not a ‘nice to have’ – it’s an absolute requirement. When people trust in the system and see the benefits from their participation, they are more likely to take part again in the future.”

It’s free to register – people are asked to provide basic information about their medical history to help match them to relevant research studies. If they already have genetic data – from an ancestry test, for example – they can add it to their profile and, with their consent, this can also be used in research. 

The company also works to match people with a research project that can fund the cost of DNA sequencing. Participants are given access to free personalised reports written by research scientists, based on their genetic data.

“This new approach by Sano is very exciting,” said research scientist Dr Mark Kotter, CEO of Elpis Biomed. “Our drug discovery and cell therapy research is often limited by outdated consent models and limited options for keeping in touch with patients to request participation in new studies. 

“Sano’s work to match interested patients and patient groups with research projects has the potential to transform drug discovery and personalised medicine.”

Andy Kulina was one of the first users of the Sano platform. His daughter has the rare genetic disorder Phelan-McDermid syndrome, which affects cognitive development, communication and mobility. 

He said: “I am always looking for ways to access the latest research on my daughter’s condition but rarely get any results or data from the studies we participate in. 

“Even when results are returned, they are often full of medical jargon. So I really appreciate the way Sano is working to support great research while giving participants full access to data and results.”

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