Today, the Institute has a “BioData Innovation Centre” on campus and is encouraging other start-ups to join Congenica on-site. “We are a trailblazer for them,” says Atkins. “They see us as a poster child for what they want to do more of.”
It’s now been four years since the UK 100K Genomes Project Bake Off, and a year since the firm’s Series B financing round, when Future Planet Capital took a stake alongside Parkwalk Advisors, Beijing Genomics Institute and Healthlink Capital, while original investors CIC and Amadeus injected further sums.
Going from start-up poster child to mature profitable genomics business is no easy feat. “We are still early on in our commercialisation path,” says Atkins. Dr Atkins’ own expertise is precisely matched to this challenge. “My time selling diagnostic services to clinicians really woke me up to the challenge of rare diseases in postnatal care,” he says. “The diagnostic odyssey is a difficult, expensive and unsatisfying process. Nearly 7% of all births, or 3.5 million people in the UK alone, are affected by a rare disease.”
Over the past three years, the company has continued to improve and refine their gold-standard clinical decision software for interpreting genomic data, SapientiaTM. Now, they are concentrating on commercialising through a series of specialised partnerships. Congenica is already an interpretation partner in a number of large scale projects around the world, including in the UK, China and Portugal.
The company’s UK National Health Service partnership has also helped them to forge their credibility and prove their integrity, as well as refine its software for clinical use. “Our second set of partners are health delivery networks, including insurers,” Atkins adds, “thanks to our relationship with the Beijing Genomics Institute, we just signed a partnership with Digital Health China,” he says. During the Prime Ministers recent visit to China, Congenica and Future Planet Capital were among the British companies signing £9bn worth of deals with Chinese companies and investors. Congenica also has strategic partnerships in the US, including with the New York Genome Center.
The Chinese partnership is a particularly interesting one for a genomics specialist. “This is an attractive market because China is a key player in the genomics revolution,” Atkins explains. “They don’t have such deeply entrenched clinical methods, so they’re looking to adopt genomics directly into their routine medicine.” This is a significant contrast to the major western markets, where the hurdles to introducing any new medical technology can be very high. “Healthcare is a very difficult area to drive change, and for good reason,” says Atkins. “The barriers are there to protect patients. It’s up to us to explain the economic benefit and demonstrate the value proposition for something that is, on the face of it, quite expensive.”
With the time-frame involved, the willingness of Congenica’s investors to take a long-term view has been of critical importance. “CIC and Amadeus are very aligned, very mature and have deep insight on this technology,” says Atkins. “They know that a credible foundation is extremely important, and at Congenica we are continuing to prove that.” Future Planet Capital are firmly committed to a patient, long-horizon strategy.