Next generation sequencing has revolutionized the biotech industry and genomics technology has changed dramatically over the last few years. There are many interesting European genomics companies, but here are 10 we thought especially worthy of mention.
By 2025, the size of global genomics market is predicted to reach a whopping €24B, and unsurprisingly, there’s a whole host of companies across Europe fighting for a slice of the pie.
The genomics industry is hugely diverse. It ranges from companies using genomic data to identify new drug targets for a range of diseases to those developing technologies for sequencing genomes more quickly, cheaply and accurately than ever before. Such is the size of the genomic datasets being generated, even finding a way to store or quickly access this data can be an enormous challenge.
Given the range of companies out there, selecting ten was hardly straightforward, and we decided to focus on those sequencing or dealing with whole genome data. In no particular order, this is our shortlist.
Location: Oxford, UK
With a current valuation of €1.7B (£1.5B), and investments piling in from a global consortium of companies, Oxford Nanopore Technologies is the new kid on the block in the lucrative world of genome sequencing. The company has made its name by developing a handheld DNA sequencer known as the MinION, which is the same size as a mobile phone.
Costing just €881 (£765) — a fraction of the price of the machines manufactured by Illumina, Qiagen and others — it works by pulling DNA through hundreds of nanoscopic pores and measuring an electrical signal produced by each building block of DNA.
While not as accurate as some larger, more precise sequencing machines produced by its commercial rivals, the accuracy has improved a lot. It is also very small and portable, allowing it to be used in remote locations, for example, for sequencing the Ebola virus. It is also significantly cheaper than many other sequencing devices. The company is now developing an even smaller sequencer known as a ‘SmidgION’ for use with a smartphone.
Location: Multiple, founded Düsseldorf, Germany
In recent years, Qiagen have made a bid to establish themselves as a global player in the enormous next generation sequencing industry, attempting to wrest some of the market share from US giants Illumina, Thermo Fisher and Pacific Life Sciences.
Originally a leading expert in the production of sequencing reagents and bioinformatics tools, Qiagen are banking on their GeneReader platform – a system which automates some of the steps involved in next generation sequencing – and whole genome amplification products to give them an edge. The latter products attempt to assist scientists in cases such as forensic investigations, where DNA quantities can be limited.
In future, Qiagen hopes to use its sequencing technology to create integrated diagnostic systems which incorporate all genes into a panel which can test for various cancers and chronic diseases.
Location: L’Aquila, Italy
Dante Labs is definitely a key player in this field and developed Europe’s first direct-to-consumer DNA test kits testing both for specific mutations and carrying out whole-genome sequencing. The company offers a number of different tests, but most are under €300. The biotech’s kits allow customers to take a saliva sample at home, which is then shipped back to the company’s offices for testing.
Through these kits, the company plans to sequence more than 10,000 genomes across Europe by the start of 2020, launching new products in the process. For example, its recently released reporting service that gives customers detailed information about their unique sensitivity to more than 100 different drugs that are currently clinically used in fields ranging from cardiology to psychiatry.
The company is hoping to form partnerships with hospitals, using this analysis to develop personalized medication programs for individual patients.
Location: Reykjavik, Iceland
Over the past two decades, deCODE has been exploiting Iceland’s unique genetic landscape by sequencing the genomes of more than 10,000 Icelanders. From this genomic information, it is identifying rare gene variants relating to a whole range of diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia.
Through the common ancestors shared by the majority of the population, the company has been able to infer the genomes of the remaining 320,000 or so citizens, and thus conduct detailed statistical analyses on this wealth of data.
In 2012, the company was purchased by US biotech giant Amgen for €366M ($415M), with deCODE’s research now being used to guide Amgen’s drug development programs.
Location: Lausanne, Switzerland
AI in healthcare is predicted to become a €32B ($36B) market over the coming years, and Sophia Genetics is one of the leading companies applying AI algorithms to genomic data.
The company has developed an intelligent system which can sift through thousands of DNA sequences to identify mutations in the genomes of patients with various chronic illnesses such as cancer, metabolic disorders and heart disease and help diagnose them in the future. As the system processes more genomic data, it continuously learns and adapts its algorithms in the process, becoming steadily more accurate in its analysis.
Sophia Genetics currently works with more than 922 hospitals in 77 countries worldwide. So far, it has tested more than 300,000 patients.
Location: Cambridge, UK
A spin-off from Cambridge’s world-leading Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the institution behind the groundbreaking Human Genome Project, Congenica uses genomic analysis to assist in the diagnosis of rare diseases.
Its lead product is a clinical genome analysis platform called Sapientia which uses machine learning to produce diagnostic reports from the vast amounts of genomic data now available in hospitals and institutions around the world. In 2017, Congenica raised €9.13M (£8M) in a Series B financing round to support the international expansion of this platform.
The company currently has partnerships with hospitals in the UK and Europe, China and the US for genomic diagnostics. Congenica also has a collaboration with Belgian biotech UCB to support its work in trying to identify new drug targets for genetic diseases.
A part of Eurofins Scientific Group, Eurofins Genomics, is another of the major players positioning themselves to try and capitalize on the growing NGS market. With 20,000 customers for its genomic sequencing technologies worldwide, Eurofins has been growing rapidly in this space, although it is still some way behind Qiagen and Illumina.
In 2017, it acquired sequencing provider GATC, which was generating around €20M in revenue at the time of purchase. In recent years, Eurofins Genomics has developed a strong focus on plant and animal genomics, forming a series of collaborations across the agriculture and breeding industries, as well as developing specific solutions for sequencing the microbiome.
Location: Manchester, UK
Based in the UK and Austria, F2G is a drug discovery company that uses genomic technology to identify and validate gene targets for rare life-threatening fungal infections, in particular Aspergillus fumigates.
F2G’s technology has enabled the discovery of a whole new class of antifungals called orotomides, effective against a number of drug-resistant pathogenic moulds. A phase IIb trial of the company’s lead product olorofim is currently underway across six countries.
F2G’s drug development program has already been backed by a variety of venture capitalists in the US, Scandinavia and Belgium, and a €24M loan from the European Investment Bank.
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Unlike the other companies on this list, MediSapiens isn’t developing new sequencing technology or identifying drug targets. However, its genomic data management solutions play an equally important role in helping scientists work with vast genomic datasets, at competitive prices.
Scientists have faced considerable challenges when trying to work with genomic data in real-time, and MediSapiens are one of the leading companies trying to tackle this problem. It has developed the world’s first genomic data management and querying software that enables scientists to search population-level genomic datasets and get answers to their questions in a matter of seconds rather than hours or days.
Location: Ness Ziona, Israel
While not technically European, the Israeli company NRGene deserves a mention on this list. Over the past two decades, genomics technology has taken plant breeding to the next level, identifying the genes which make crops more productive, disease resistant, and climate adaptive.
However, this remains an ongoing challenge as there is huge genetic diversity within plants and some of their genomes are far larger than the human genome. NRGene is a world leader in sequencing plant genomes, developing methods that help to guide plant breeders around the world.
In recent years, the company has sequenced the genomes of maize, soy, and tomato plants, and even wheat – a feat previously considered impossible because of its size.
David Cox is a science and health writer based in the UK. He has a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Cambridge and has written for newspapers and broadcasters worldwide including the BBC, New York Times, and Guardian. You can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter89.
Images via Shutterstock and E. Resko