Two years into Genome Explorations' young life, the company's
success backs up a study commissioned by the Mid-South's leading
chief executives, that the Memphis area has clear advantages as
a bioscience research and industry center.
Genome Explorations processes and analyzes DNA samples using the
Affymetrix GeneChip and Genome Explorations' own information technology
systems. Also known as a microarray, a gene chip contains thousands
of human genes against which DNA samples are compared to determine
the presence or absence of proteins generated by cancer cells.
"The importance of this microarray technology is that it's
how you begin to focus on specific genes," said Mitchell Horowitz,
who authored a Battelle Memorial Institute study of Memphis's potential
as a center of bioscience research and industry.
Focusing on specific genes helps drug discovery, which is one of
Memphis's strengths cited in the Battelle study, commissioned by
Memphis Tomorrow. Chief executives of several of Memphis's largest
companies formed Memphis Tomorrow to advance local citizens' well-being
via "significant, breakthrough initiatives."
The genetic "global snapshot" and interpretation provided
by Genome Explorations helps researchers identify promising leads
for disease treatment earlier, said Dr. Divyen Patel, who founded
the company in 2001. It also helps provide more accurate prognosis
for how specific patients likely will respond to treatment.
Genome Explorations made a profit in its first quarter and plans
to open offices in Europe in the first half of 2004. The company
provides microarray analysis and gene expression profiling for more
than 70 organizations worldwide. Among them are pharmaceutical companies,
research institutions and biotech start-ups.
"We're pretty much the market leaders for this type of technology,"
The FedEx hub provides one advantage for Genome Explorations, Patel
said. "We have really reliable sample delivery," he said.
Patel worked and developed systems used at Genome Explorations with
Dr. Clayton Naeve, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital chief of
molecular biotechnology and director of the Hartwell Center for
Bioinformatics and Biotechnology, who now sits on Genome Explorations'
"Our main goal is to attract more and more researchers,"
The company hoped to get local client institutions as clients in
its first year, expand nationally in its second year, move into
Europe in its third year and "go global" in the fourth
year, Patel said. But by the end of Genome Explorations' first full
year, it had already expanded worldwide with about 75 institutions,
Patel recently returned from a trip to the United Kingdom, where
he is negotiating an alliance with a Scottish company. Other alliances
include Apocom Genomics, of Knoxville, VizX Labs, of Seattle, and
the Southern Research Institute, of Birmingham.
Rhonda Jung, Southern Research Institute spokeswoman, said, "It's
an area where we're focusing a lot of new attention and hoping to
collaborate with companies like Genome Explorations."
SRI chose Genome Explorations because a number of SRI's researchers
had experience with Patel and his colleagues, "so there was
some comfort level there," said David Harris, SRI director
of business development for drug discovery.
Patel said, "The good thing about all of our alliances so far
is that they have approached us, instead of the other way around."
Patel and his colleagues hope to form companies to exploit microarray
analysis research for specific diseases. The first such firm, developed
under the Logical Genomics umbrella company, is Astrogene, which
focuses on brain tumors.
These other companies would use Genome Explorations' gene expression
SRI's Harris said, "There are some other joint projects where
we believe their technology and connections into a specific niche
in the marketplace, plus our full array of drug discovery and development
services is a unique combination."
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