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CATCHING “GENETIC TYPOS” WITH TORONTO-BASED DNASTACK

By JLABS
Articles

“In the nucleus of trillions of cells in your body, there are 23 pairs of chromosomes that comprise a genome. There are about 6 billion letters in a human genome, that collectively spell out a sort of molecular blueprint. A mutation of just a single letter in that genetic blueprint can literally change your life.”

This is the succinct raison d'être outlined on the website of Toronto-based DNAstack, a company that develops cutting-edge technologies to help scientists discover and treat the causes of genetic diseases. Amazing, isn’t it? If the human genome is a story, a minor “typo” can result in a life-threatening disease.

It was one of these genetic mistakes that presented DNAstack Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder Marc Fiume’s best friend with a devastating diagnosis – cystic fibrosis, an inherited, incurable, and life-threatening disorder. Fiume took this personal tragedy in stride, honoring his friend by using his story as the inspiration for a new company that would give doctors and patients a leg up on such illnesses.

Thus, DNAstack, a cloud-based platform for genomics data storage, bioinformatics, and sharing was born with the goal of helping researchers find the cause of genetic disease, clinicians diagnose those diseases, and pharmaceutical companies design treatments faster and with more precision than ever before.

And since launching its cloud platform in October 2016, DNAstack is barreling full speed ahead on the road to doing just that – strategically partnering with tech and life science giants along the way. Google, which has embraced DNAstack as an extension of its cloud platform, and Johnson & Johnson Innovation, which last June welcomed DNAstack to its JLABS @ Toronto facility, are just two such examples.

For Fiume, these relationships are “very intentional” and give his company the freedom to “focus on product not sales.” “With JLABS, we have the nimbleness of a startup but the resources of a big company, which allows us to make a big impact quickly,” said Fiume. Among these resources is Rebecca Yu, former Head of JLABS Canada, whom Fiume describes as one of his “biggest champions.” 

With its fresh ideas and knack for grabbing hold of opportunities, DNAstack has expanded quickly – doubling its size, launching two new products, and obtaining non-dilutive financing in its short time at JLABS @ Toronto. The company has also successfully established itself at the forefront of one the hottest (and most important) trends in bioinformatics: democratization of access to genomic data.

While DNAstack has always been free for researchers, earlier this year, the company launched “Workflows,” an application for scalable, reproducible bioinformatics workflows based on open standards. Per DNAstack, Workflows enables anyone with an internet connection to run any genomics data analysis pipeline at any scale – a game changer that is already accelerating research in cancer, autism, and rare disease. 

Fiume is quick to point out, however, that despite its early success, his company (like any other) has faced challenges. 

“The most difficult thing for DNAstack is breaking down traditional mindsets in government and healthcare to make way for the adoption of new, vastly superior technologies that will drastically improve and save lives,” said Fiume. “The reasons why traditional music, video, and bookstores no longer exist are the same reasons that we will see a revolution of health through digitalization.”

In the face of such obstacles, Fiume leans on his team, whom he says are his “most valuable resources.” When asked for his top piece of advice for budding life science entrepreneurs, he says simply “focus, and regularly refocus, [your team] on what matters.”

As a relatively new venture ourselves, in the trenches with our residents to address the world’s most pressing healthcare challenges, we at JLABS couldn’t agree more. We can’t wait to see the additional success the next year brings for DNAstack, and look forward to supporting Fiume and his team every step of the way!