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Personalised medicine and the future of pharma

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Personalised medicine

Sano Genetics is a health tech start up transforming the way people participate in personalised medicine research.

Launched in 2017 by three Cambridge University genomics students, the company aims to simplify medical research for participants and researchers alike.

Health Tech World called up co-founder and CEO Dr Patrick Short to learn more.

What inspired you to set up Sano Genetics?

The cost of genome sequencing has come down rapidly but it’s still very expensive to run a study. Approvals are slow. It takes 15 years and billions of dollars to develop a new drug.

And as a research participant, you never hear anything back after you submit your sample. This is very unsatisfying for people.

We realised that there were simple things we could do to make the participant experience a lot better.

What are the potential benefits of precision medicine and how far away are we?

Over the next 10 years, I think we’re going to see every major common disease get reclassified into a number of genetic subsets.

If you go back 15 or 20 years, breast cancer was breast cancer. But now there’s 18 and counting genetic subtypes.

We’re seeing the same thing happening in Alzheimer’s disease and alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Eventually, instead of Parkinson’s disease. it’ll be GBA Parkinson’s. Instead of ALS, it’ll be C9orf72 ALS.

For me, that’s what makes precision medicine so promising. It’s about moving from this one-size-fits-all to a much more precise and biologically-driven understanding of how we treat disease.

How do you encourage people to participate in precision medicine research?

It’s about really understanding what motivates people to take part.

Is it that they want to help others like them? Is it that they’re driven by curiosity? Or perhaps the potential monetary benefit?

How do we make research as appealing as possible, so that participants actually get something out of it?

The second pillar is about transparency and data privacy.

We want to ensure that participants are in control their own data, they understand who they’re working with and how it works, and all this stuff is easy to do.

The third pillar is about making it easy to take part.

Will the volunteers come here every day for 15 days in a row, or will that put them off? Do they really want to have a sample taken from their spine?

It may be that your Parkinson’s study is focused on a subset of patients with a particular genetic subtype.

Rather than asking all the applicants to come in only for 95 per cent to be unsuitable, let’s make it easier to find out. This saves a lot of time and money for the researchers as well.

How can you attract a diverse pool of participants?

This is one that really has no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s very disease-specific, and it’s very community-specific.

We like to start at the most granular level and work closely with the patients and communities that are involved in that particular study or disease.

When we were developing our platform, we knew that patients and families of children with rare disease were going to be key participants in our studies.

So we did a series of co-development workshops with members of the 100,000 Genomes Project from Genomics England.

We started from the very beginning with a blank slate, identified the problems and looked at how we should go about solving them.

What areas are working in at the minute? And how do you select these research areas?

In some cases, we identify areas of great unmet need where there’s a lot of opportunity to develop precision medicines.

Long Covid was one example of this.

We could see that there was very little being done for this large group of people who were developing significant symptoms after their infection.

In other cases, it’s led by the biotech, pharma or government initiatives that we work with.

Often, it’s based around a novel therapy that they’re developing. They need to identify a subset of a patient population that could benefit from the therapy.

What I find most exciting is the breadth of disease areas we work across.

We get to really dive in and understand the patient journey and genetics of very different diseases, from rare childhood conditions, to common, complex diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

These studies are being run by innovative biotechs, large pharma and some really amazing researchers in universities.

There’s also a number of public-private partnerships like Genomics England, which is a wholly owned company of the Department of Health.

You recently raised $11 million in a Series A funding round. How do you plan to use this?

First and foremost, we will be growing our team.

We have an amazing team of 31 people today, and we’re looking to grow to maybe 50 or 60 by the end of next year.

This is across the board, from tech and software engineering to project management, sales and marketing.

We’re also expanding geographically.

We really need to be thinking globally and enrolling diverse populations into these studies.

If we can provide a global, all-on-one platform, that’s a win for our customers, for the participants and for us.

In the meantime, we would love to engage with any precision medicine-focused patient organisations, biobanks, population and omics, biotechs and pharma companies.

This is an exciting industry. We’re working with some really interesting groups already and are really excited to continue to grow.

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