LifeOmic teams with IU, Regenstrief on precision medicine

LifeOmic, the software startup founded by serial tech entrepreneur Don Brown, has partnered with two Indiana institutions for a boost in one of the hottest sectors in health care: precision medicine.

On Thursday, Indianapolis-based LifeOmic announced that it has formed an alliance with Indiana University and biomedical informatics research center Regenstrief Institute to advance precision medicine, the burgeoning field of using patient DNA to personalize disease treatment and prevention.

LifeOmic, founded in December, offers genome sequencing services and software for managing genomic data. As part of the deal, the company said, LifeOmic would have license to "a broad range of intellectual property owned by IU and Regenstrief," and access to their faculty. In exchange, IU and Regenstrief get a minority ownership stake in LifeOmic.

"We're excited to work with IU and Regenstrief to build a platform that can not only advance the delivery of precision medicine but serve as the basis for an entire ecosystem of health care innovation in Indiana," Brown said in written remarks. "We hope to see dozens of new companies spring up to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities ahead."

Precision medicine tailors treatment based on an individual’s unique attributes coded in DNA. Each human cell contains about 30,000 protein-making genes, and those proteins can determine the effectiveness of certain treatments—from blood thinners to cancer-fighting drugs.

Over the past two decades, advances in science have significantly reduced the time and cost of mapping a person's DNA, but that's only half the precision-medicine battle. There are still challenges associated with storing, analyzing and making clinical decisions based on that data.

Officials said LifeOmic will collaborate with IU and Regenstrief to develop a "data commons," a single repository for storing genetic and other medical data for millions of patients. The platform will be accessible to researchers and clinicians around the state.

They said collaboration will be streamlined, not hampered by project-specific negotiations common between for-profit and not-for-profit entities. Officials said such collaboration could include an IU immunologist who wants to work with LifeOmic to develop a test to help physicians more accurately diagnose autoimmune disorders. 

"The problems and challenges we are facing in health care today are too big to be solved by any one institution," said Anantha Shekhar, IU associate vice president of research for university clinical affairs and executive associate dean for research affairs at IU School of Medicine. "To make progress, we must collaborate with other universities and with private industry across multiple fields. My vision is to forge more industry partnerships like this with minimal bureaucratic barriers to collaborations, so we can tap into the expertise we need to serve patients in Indiana and elsewhere."

Officials did not disclose specific deal terms, including LifeOmic's valuation and the percentage of the company now owned by Regenstrief and IU. Brown, however, has pumped about $20 million of his own money into LifeOmic to get it started.

This is not IU's first go-round with taking ownership in private companies. In 2009, it pocketed about $25 million from its stake in Angel Learning, which Blackboard acquired that year for $100 million. The school then used some of the proceeds to establish the Innovate Indiana Fund, a venture capital vehicle. 

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