As healthcare moves towards genetically tailored treatments, the lack of fast, low – cost genetic screening is one of the biggest challenges to truly personalized medicine.
But few people are more acquainted with the issues of today’s genetic diagnostic tools than Kalim Mir, XGenomes ‘ 52-year – old founder, who studied the human genome throughout his professional career.
“Genomics will ultimately be the foundation of health care,” Mir says. “We need to move towards sequencing populations for this.” And sequencing of the population – scale genes is something that current techniques can not achieve.
“If we talk to millions of people about sequencing on a population scale, we just don’t have the performance,” Mir says.
That’s why he launched XGenomes, which will be presenting next week as part of Y Combinator’s latest batch.
A visiting scientist at the Dept of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Mir worked with renowned Harvard professor George Church on a new type of gene genomic tech that promised to perform sequencing at higher speeds and far lower costs than anything on the market.
In the 19 years since the Human Genome Project successfully completed its $ 1 billion project, the cost of sequencing a genome has dropped significantly.
Gene sequencing can take a few days these days and cost about $ 1,000, says Mir. But with XGenomes, Mir hopes to further push down the cost of testing.
“We have developed a way of sequencing directly on the DNA where we don’t manipulate it except to open the double helix,” Mir says.
It is not where Mir thought he would be when he was growing up in Yorkshire in Northern England to run a startup focused on conducting gene sequencing at population scales. “I wasn’t in science or technology when I was in school there. I’ve been interested in literature,” he remembers.
That changed when he read the Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and started thinking about the implications of the book’s genetic manipulation.
Mir studied molecular biology at Queen Mary College and worked in a U.S. biotech company after graduation.
After returning to England in the mid-90s to complete his PhD, Mir worked on the foundational science with geneticist Edwin Southern, which is now the core of testing technologies such as 23andMe, Illumina, and Affymetrix.
Xgenomes technology works by unpacking DNA strands and then simultaneously sequencing the strands.
“I like to think like a book about the genome. The genome has chapters, and the chromosomes could be the chapters,” Mir says. “Read letter by letter today’s technologies. But the words we recognize.”
By using optical imaging technologies, the company can accomplish this feat. Samples are treated with laser – excited reagents. XGenomes tech then reads and identifies the DNA bits that are highlighted.
Using this new tech, Mir believes that in one to two hours and for as little as $ 100, he can ultimately sequence a complete genome.
That would be a shift in the way testing is performed and could result in the rapid sequencing throughput that Mir says is required to make the vision of the future of truly regenerative medicine a reality.