Novartis VC unit co-leads $53M investment in BioNano Genomics

BioNano CEO Erik Holmlin

BioNano Genomics has restocked its coffers to fund an assault on the genome analysis sector. The San Diego, CA-based genome mapping firm raised a $53 million war chest from Novartis' ($NVS) venture fund and other investors to accelerate uptake of its Irys DNA analysis device and accompanying software.

The device is targeting a different niche of the genome sequencing space than Illumina ($ILMN), the dominant force in the overall market. And as such BioNano has succeeded in selling technology to the same research sites as Illumina. BioNano lists the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute--both of which have bought HiSeq X Ten systems from Illumina--among its clients.

BioNano has carved out a niche in the sector by focusing on the detection of structural variants. Instead of sequencing each DNA base pair, BioNano takes a lower resolution approach that still nails all of the key elements. "We're putting the jigsaw puzzle together with really large pieces, [but] all the functional components are going to be in the right place," BioNano CEO Erik Holmlin told Xconomy. Other sequencers deliver more detail, but the overall picture is still the same.

The approach has gained BioNano some A-list cheerleaders. "We saw that BioNano has the only commercial genome mapping system that can systematically analyze clinically important [structural variations], including DNA rearrangements and recombinations, and were inspired to provide capital and expertise to BioNano," Campbell Murray, managing director of the Novartis Venture Fund, said in a statement.

Novartis Venture Fund joined with Legend Capital--a Chinese VC linked to Lenovo's major investor--to lead the $53 million Series C round. BioNano said it will use the cash to accelerate uptake of its Irys platform, which includes a benchtop DNA imager, sample handling chip and software for assembly, alignment and variation detection.

- read the release (PDF)
- here's Xconomy's piece
- and FierceBiotech's take