Iceland is an isolated country, settled 1,200 years ago with little migration by other peoples since then. For years, researchers have a studied the genetic makeup of Icelanders--and to a lesser extent the Mormon population in Utah--because of the presence of genetic homogeneity, or minimal variation in the gene pool.
This lack of variation helps determine why a certain group or groups of people may be more susceptible to particular diseases than others. The degree of genetic homogeneity in Iceland has been questioned in recent years, and its small population of about 320,000 also has been a limiting factor.
India-based MedGenome, with its U.S. operations in San Francisco and fresh off closing a $4 million funding round to accelerate growth, is a vendor of DNA sequencing and data analytics services, and its laboratory is India.
The nation is like 1,000 Icelands with tens of thousands of genetically homogeneous populations, says Dmitri Mehlhorn, a major investor and board member. India has a population of 1.2 billion, about 650 different tribes, and more than 2,000 ethnic groups, 3,000 caste groups and 25,000 sub-caste groups in its hierarchical society. Mixing across groups is limited, resulting in a large number of populations genetically different from each other.
Studying these thousands of gene pools can help researchers assess which genetic mutations are more likely to cause certain cancers or other diseases among various subgroups. If we can look in each cancer cell and know what its genes are, we can find and fix the mutation before it manifests, Mehlhorn says.
MedGenomes proprietary database, called Oncogenic Mutation Database or OncoMD, presently holds information on more than 1.2 million cancer-related genetic mutations. Gene sequencing costs about $1,000 with patients paying the fee. The company has done several thousand such sequences and expects the business to grow substantially within a couple of years.
The company has about 100 clients, mostly research firms and major hospitals along with a growing number of pharmaceutical firms. About a dozen clients are in the United States including one hospital--Childrens Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. More information is available here.
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