Although his background is in business including a stint as an investment banker, Travis Lacey was always drawn to the diagnostics market. That interest ultimately led him to join the team at Human Longevity (HLI) in 2017. “Craig [Venter]’s vision when he started Human Longevity was to democratize genomics,” he said. That really was what attracted me. Not just this ability to democratize genomics but really to revolutionize the way people are treated.” During his time there, he spun out a cancer-based business that was purchased by NeoGenomics Laboratories. Now he is responsible for leading Human Longevity’s latest spin-out, Simplify Genomics, as its co-founder and CEO.
The company recently emerged from development mode with the launch of Smart Genome, a proprietary genome interpretation, analysis, and reporting engine that was initially developed by genomic scientists, bioinformaticians, software engineers, clinicians, and laboratory professionals at HLI. The platform features software that can accept raw sequence data, analyze and interpret it, and generate clinical reports with detailed descriptions of pathogenic and likely pathogenic variants and their associated risks as well as pharmacogenomic findings to help physicians understand how their patients process certain medications.
Smart Genome also features a search engine that lets clinicians and researchers query and annotate sequence data. Underpinning both the interpretation software and search engine is a database of 35,000 de-identified whole genomes that have been curated and annotated.
Since it was developed, HLI has used the platform to curate over 7,000 genes and millions of variants. They’ve also generated clinical whole genome reports across hereditary monogenic disease, polygenic risk, pharmacogenomics, and nutrition and wellness traits. “Our genomics stack is repeatable, objective, and designed to scale with technology, not people,” said Wayne Delport, Simplify Genomics co-founder and CTO. “This allows us to extract clinically relevant content from genomes with minimal human intervention. We have demonstrated the feasibility of this approach over the past five years, seamlessly issuing clinical whole genome reports since 2018.”
All of this data and functionality is now available from Simplify Genomics and will be used to provide genomic clinical reports directly to physicians. Later on, the company will have an option that lets customers use Smart Genome to generate reports themselves. But for now, these reports are the company’s primary revenue source. Prices for reports range from $1250–1500 for the initial report.
For that price, patients get information on variants associated with various diseases and disorders including metabolic, cardiovascular, cancer, endocrine, and neurological. “We are starting in the executive health, concierge medicine space which is a massive market to seed our platform and report,” he said. Physicians in this setting would typically order reports for patients interested in understanding their risks of developing different conditions or how they might metabolize specific drugs. Simplify Genomics will provide physicians and patients with updated reports as they get new information about relevant variants, and patients only need to be sequenced once.
To get reports, clinicians can either send de-identified sequence data directly to the company for interpretation and reporting or they can send samples to a Simplify Genomics vendor partner for sequencing. Going from raw sequence data to clinical report takes a matter of days. Right now, the company is validated for blood and working on securing the validation needed for saliva samples. The company is also offering an open version of its database and search engine for researchers to use.
Simplify Genomics is entering a market that includes established players like Fabric Genomics. Most recently, Fabric announced collaborations with Oxford Nanopore and DNAnexus. Both partnerships were announced at last year’s American Society for Human Genetics conference. Fabric’s collaboration with Oxford Nanopore is focused on supporting the use of nanopore sequencing to characterize genetic disorders in neonatal and pediatric intensive units. With DNAnexus, Fabric is integrating its genomic analysis tools and AI engine with the DNAnexus cloud to interpret genomic sequences, detect clinically actionable variants, and generate patient reports.
Lacey is confident that Simplify Genomics will stand out for a few reasons. First, the technology itself is not new. It was developed and optimized inside HLI and has been used to issue clinical reports for several years. Furthermore, “we’ve automated the ability to call pathogenic and likely pathogenic variants,” he explained. “It takes the guesswork out of making those calls.” It also means that scientists only have to spend a few minutes verifying the report at the end of the interpretation process. He also believes that the company’s search engine capabilities are a key differentiator from potential competitors.
Although its technology comes out of HLI, Simplify Genomics is a separate entity and is working on building its own customer relationships with clinicians and then moving more broadly into the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. HLI does own a portion of Simplify Genomics and the company will continue to deliver genomic clinical reports for HLI’s executive health business.
Simplify Genomics raised some financing around the time it spun out from HLI and is currently raising additional funding through a second financing round. Lacey declined to disclose exactly how much they have already raised and plan to raise in the new round.