British Startup Raises Millions to Become the Illumina for Epigenetics

cambridge epigenix true methyl oxsb seq epigenome sequencing 5mc 5hmc gv sequoia geoff smith

Cambridge Epigenetix (UK) wants to unlock the power of the Epigenome and become what Illumina is for NGS. And now, it has gotten the €18.9M and a new CEO needed to achieve this.

cambridge_epigenix_oxsbCambrige Epigenetix is a Biotech developing epigenetic tools, and was initially founded by Cambridge Enterprise (an incubator of the University of Cambridge) and Syncona Partners – one of the top 15 VCs in Europe.

This Biotech went on to raise about €4.3M ($5.5M) in late 2014, adding well-known New Science Ventures (which also participated in Forbion-led investment in NASH) to its investor roll.

Now, Epigenetix has raised around €18.9M ($21M) in a series B round, and from very interesting investors. These are GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Sequoia Capital – one of the most prominent VCs in Silicon Valley.

Investors in Cambridge Epigenetix…

This is another case of conventional Tech investors going for Biotech companies. But why did they choose this particular Biotech?

Cambridge Epigenetix was built on top on a particular piece of technology, the oxBS-Seq. This tech can sequence epigenetic modifications – which are subtle chemical differences that don’t change the genetic sequence, but change the transcription of certain genes depending on the environment.

One of the most well-studied epigenetic modifications is DNA methylation, and oxBS-Seq techniques can determine what DNA bases have this modification – and even distinguish between two of the types of methylation.

The chemistry behind oxBS-Seq, which can differentiate methylated (5mC and 5hmC) DNA bases. It does this by comparing the original DNA sequence with copies subjected to two different chemical procedures (Source: Cambridge Epigenix)

The epigenome (collection of epigenetic changes to a person’s genome over time) plays an important role in many diseases. Certain companies are even investigating it for the role it can play in Neurodegenerative disease and cancer. So, being able to sequence the epigenome could be very valuable in the future of data-driven medicine.

GV’s partner Tom Hulme (who now joins Epigenetix’s board) thinks that this concept of epigenome sequencing has as much potential as Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), and could similarly become a technological backbone in medical research. In this scenario, Epigenetix would be the next Illumina for epigenetics.

The workflow of TrueMethyl product, which is based on oxBS-Seq (Source: Cambridge Epigenetix)

This Cambridge-based Biotech therefore seems to be aiming for this, and has even recruited a new CEO from Illumina’s ranks – Geoff Smith (former VP of Product Development).

Smith shares the same vision of epigenetic products being the next must-have for laboratories worldwide. He also considers that the new investors are key to create a data-driven tool – just like in NGS, analysing sequencing results and storing data will present as significant challenges.

Cambridge Epigenetix has big dreams, a hot field, fresh money and strong investors, both from the life sciences industry and traditional Tech. Sounds like a winning combination.

Feature image credit: Concept of biochemist © artnovi (BigStock ID110717993)

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