Amgen claimed Big Data software prize in $415M deCODE buyout

Amgen puzzled some industry watchers in late 2012 when the biotech giant ($AMGN) unexpectedly pulled the trigger on a buyout of DNA research trendsetter deCODE Genetics. And while the wisdom or folly of the sizable purchase will be proven over time, Bio-IT World Editor Kevin Davies highlights the benefits and capabilities of deCODE's clinical genomics software.

Not long before the $415 million buyout deal with Amgen, Iceland-based deCODE had begun to publicly trumpet its software called Clinical Sequence Miner that could help clinicians bridge the gap between petabytes of genomic Big Data and the potential explanations of human disease. As Davies reports, the software grew from the storied company's desire to expand from research and discovery work into the promising future of genomics in clinical care--which offers a wealth of opportunities. Now that DNA sequencing has become widely accessible, doctors want to use genomic data to nail down precise diagnoses for patients, match their ailments with targeted drugs and other things like spot genetic indicators of adverse reactions to certain therapies.

Such achievements as creating the software helped validate the decision of Polaris Venture Partners and Arch Venture Partners to pull deCODE out of bankruptcy and refinance the genomics operation that had run into money trouble after the global financial crisis.

Yet Amgen has plans for deCODE's expertise outside of clinical care, interested in how deCODE's vast stores of knowledge and expertise in human genetics could bolster the new owner's research of new drugs and treatments. To hear Amgen CEO Robert Bradway and other company brass tell it, the capabilities from deCODE are expected to help their drug hunters home in on novel disease targets and prove or disprove the merits of other targets before the Thousand Oaks, CA-based company dumps massive amounts of money into development programs. With its "pick the winners" strategy touted after the December deCODE buyout, Amgen clearly wants to outperform the abysmal industry average on drug R&D performance.

"Because of the costs of clinical studies and [developing] successful drugs, you don't need to have a lot of hits to justify [a deal] like this," Sasha Kamb, Amgen's senior vice president of research, whose jurisdiction covers deCODE, told Bio-IT World. "But we're also hopeful that [deCODE] will hit for average--that there will be many smaller, earlier effects--information that will give us the conviction to aggressively move [drugs] forward or aggressively terminate things."

As for the Clinical Sequence Miner, Davies reported, Amgen has not decided how to proceed with the technology, whether the company should continue its development or spin off the asset into a new venture. In the latter case, the software would come up against a bevy of new startups with analytical capabilities to interpret genomic data. Amgen's Kamb was unwilling to part with details on whether the CSM asset would be spun off, as the company did with cancer drug candidates last year with VC partner Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers via Atara Biotherapeutics.

The uncertain future of the CSM tech gives the bioinformatics sector its own interesting storyline to watch as the deCODE saga unfolds under new ownership at Amgen.

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