'Jeff Bezos of bioinformatics' finds capital and customers for startup

To translate Big Data in genomics into useful healthcare products, entrepreneurs might have to roll up their sleeves and invent their own solutions like the Srinivasan brothers have.

As TechCrunch reports, the startup Counsyl has wrapped together innovations in software, lab tools, wet lab chemistry and mobile tech to build a fascinating genetic testing business from scratch. The South San Francisco-based company, launched in 2008, has attracted top-tier investors and homed in on an area of demand for genetic information. 

While the average person might not care about genomics data, many prospective parents have an interest in learning about the genetic risks they carry as those factors relate to the health of their offspring. Counsyl has answered their questions with a simple product that costs $599 without insurance to test people for more than 400 mutations and risk factors for 100 or so genetic diseases before they have children. (The company's web site says, "Prevent Genetic Disease Before Pregnancy with a Genetic Test.") According to TechCrunch, the company's test beats rivals on price and, in some cases, the breadth of genetic information provided.

Counsyl's success to date stems from a potent mix of technical savvy and smart business. TechCrunch listed the impressive inventions from the startup: Image-processing software to reduce genetic testing errors; an iPad app for doctors to order the genetic tests; billing software for dealing with insurance claims; and re-engineering a number of components used in the lab for its genetic tests. The company is also tackling the challenges of interpreting and curating genomic data, and at this point the startup is processing about half a terabyte of data per day.

A lot of the credit goes to cofounder and CEO Ramji Srinivasan, who started the company with his brother and Stanford-trained electrical engineer Balaji Srinivasan. "He's like the Jeff Bezos of bioinformatics," said Felicis Ventures' Aydin Senkut, as quoted by the tech publication. "He's good at wringing inefficiencies out, which is very much like the Amazon model."

More into building a business than buzz, Counsyl kept its fundraising activities on the quiet. Yet TechCrunch reports that the company has scored about $65 million from investors such as the Founders Fund (early backer of Facebook and Tesla Motors), Felicis Ventures, Google ($GOOG) employees David Drummond and Jeff Dean and David Lee of SV Angel.

Counsyl isn't the only startup focused on genetic testing. Cambridge, MA-based Good Start Genetics, which emerged from the lab of Harvard geneticist George Church, has advanced its own carrier genetic test and has raised money from big-name VC groups such as OrbiMed Advisors and SV Life Sciences. 

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