For Genomics, DNA Is the Answer to Treating Disease

How a tech startup is empowering personalized medicine by directing information straight to doctors’ fingertips // llustration by James Heimer
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Genoms

Genomenon is a DNA interpretation software company that was born out of the growing gap between big data and diagnostic decision-making. The startup grew from the University of Michigan in 2014, with support from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Michigan Small Business Development Center, and the university itself, among other investors. After securing seed funding of $1.8 million, Genomenon launched in 2017 and set out to transform the field of genomic medicine.

Co-founder and Chief Science Officer Dr. Mark Kiel is a molecular genetic pathologist by training. In his years of clinical practice, Kiel observed a dearth of effective ways to interpret the DNA data sets of his cancer and rare diseases patients. Obtaining patient data was simple. Understanding what that information meant — in relation to a vast and rapidly growing body of medical research — and coming to precise diagnostic decisions was the struggle. Kiel felt that the manual search process was inefficient and often lacked accuracy. At the time however, there were no commercially available tools to help facilitate genomic analysis. He decided to change that. Kiel teamed up with Steve Schwartz, Genomenon’s co-founder and chief technology officer, who had decades of relevant expertise in developing software, and later brought on Mike Klein, CEO, who came with more than 25 years of startup experience.

Genomenon mines data from over 30 million medical publications to locate correlations. For example, from a patient’s genetic mutation, its tools will not only connect all the related empirical research, but also surface the most relevant data for doctors to understand what it all means, Klein explains. He says oftentimes, patients will see dozens, sometimes hundreds, of doctors, go through several tests, and still walk away with inconclusive results. Genomenon aims to alleviate this issue so that a newborn suffering from a rare genetic disease or a patient with cancer can find fast and effective treatment.

In clinical practice, Genomenon taps into the model of precision medicine, which focuses on the customization of health care to the individual patient. At a broader level, the software helps pharmaceutical companies identify the whole genetic makeup of certain diseases, like monogenic obesity, to develop precision drugs.

The field of genomics and DNA sequencing was unimaginable 25 years ago. The real challenge now is making that information practical, says Kiel, and that’s the niche in which a software company such as Genomenon fits. 

According to Klein, there were nearly half a million articles published in the medical literature with DNA information in 2018 alone, and that number is continuing to grow exponentially. “This wealth of information, this wealth of knowledge, we’re really only in the first inning of the game for genomics,” Klein says, “and we’re just uncovering so much more information that will help make better diagnostic and treatment decisions for patients.”

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