Intel invests in DNA sequencing
Intel has co-led a $100m (£50m) round of venture capital funding for a California-based start-up that hopes to make DNA sequencing a routine part of medical care. Announced on Monday, the funding round, is designed to enable privately owned Pacific Biosciences to commercialise its single-molecule, real-time (SMRT) DNA sequencing platform. Pacific Biosciences chief executive Hugh Martin says the company's first commercial hardware, planned for 2010, is intended to be capable of analysing an individual's complete DNA makeup in a matter of days. By 2013 the platform is projected to be able to complete the process in 15 minutes. By contrast, the US government-funded Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, took 13 years and cost $450m.
The company's goal is to enable medical treatments to be designed with patients' particular genetic characteristics in mind. For instance, researchers may be able to determine whether individuals with particular DNA markers will respond well to a particular drug. The start-up claims the SMRT platform can read longer strands of DNA than existing techniques, and can analyse DNA synthesis as it occurs, making for simpler and faster sequencing. The process separates DNA helices into single strands. These are fragmented into individual nucleotides and fed into chambers on sequencing chips. Nucleotide letters are introduced into the chambers, each linked to a fluorescent marker. Finally, a polymerase enzyme causes the DNA nucleotides to pair with the marked letters, causing flashes of light that are used to identify the DNA sequence.
Intel co-led the transaction with Deerfield Management. Other new investors included Morgan Stanley, Redmile Group and T. Rowe Price. Previous investors who participated in the round included Mohr Davidow Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Alloy Ventures, Maverick Capital, Alliance Bernstein, DAG Ventures, and Teachers' Private Capital.
Other recent Intel investments have included a new company for the development and production of solar cells, called SpectraWatt, and the HomeGrid Forum, which plans to develop a uniform standard for home networking using existing cable systems.