Building the right genomics tools to reveal and address the true complexities of biology and disease.
CEO: Serge Saxonov
Based: Pleasanton, California
The scoop: Despite recent advances, the world still knows very little about biology, and drug development is still mostly about trial and error due to that lack of understanding, according to 10x Genomics CEO Serge Saxonov, Ph.D. The company is building genomics tools that help pierce the veil of complex biology and disease, to unlock new possibilities in biomedical research.
What makes 10x fierce: 10x is pioneering single-cell sequencing processes and exploring new bioanalyses made possible by this novel technology.
Researchers have long wanted to observe gene expression on a cell-by-cell basis but didn’t have the techniques or hardware to produce such a granular picture. Instead, they would essentially blend all the different cells in a tissue sample together to measure an average.
“You basically lose all the resolution [of] what happens in biology,” says Saxonov.
By contrast, sequencing each individual cell’s genetic material can offer insights into how they perform their different functions, which would previously be washed out in a bulk analysis. To that end, 10x’s Chromium System has already made meaningful contributions.
In a study published in Nature last year, a team led by researchers from the Broad Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital employed 10x’s single-cell sequencing technology to find a new type of cell in airway tissue.
Dubbed a “pulmonary ionocyte,” the rare cell is believed to play a key role in cystic fibrosis. Making up about 1% of the tissue’s cell population, the ionocytes were found to be responsible for most of the expression of a gene whose mutations have been linked to the disease.
Moreover, the company is also offering technological support for the Human Cell Atlas project, which aims to create comprehensive maps of all human cells to enable a better understanding of human health.
To further hone its single-cell sequencing edge, 10x made its first acquisition last August, picking up the epigenetics startup Epinomics, along with the ATAC-seq technique invented by its founders.
“Epigenomics is a fundamental feature of human biology that drives lots of downstream effects involved in just about every part of diseases, but we’ve not had a technology to really see it until […] ATAC-seq,” says Saxonov. It complements 10x’s offerings and enables it “to measure the epigenome at an unprecedented rate of resolution and sensitivity.”
But being able to analyze biology at the single-cell level isn’t enough for 10x: “The next question that people come up with is how other cells and the molecules are arranged with respect to each other and in tissue,” says Saxonov. Then, last December, 10x bought Spatial Transcriptomics and its tools for high-throughput analysis of mRNAs in a tissue environment.
Empowered by a unique barcoding technology, 10x is now able to run multi-omics analyses that can simultaneously examine RNA transcription and protein expression in the same cell. It can also map out the interaction between specific antigen and immune cell receptors.
Meanwhile, an extension of its series D funding round at the top of the year brought 10x’s total financing up to $243 million, and its 2018 revenue of $146 million was more than twice what it pulled in the year before. The company has also moved into new headquarters in Pleasanton, California, and opened offices in Singapore and Shanghai and a new research center in Sweden. And after doubling its headcount in 2018 to 400, 10x is now looking to add 200 additional jobs this year.
Saxonov’s plan for the company is to grow into a standalone powerhouse. If going public turns out to be the most effective way, 10x will certainly consider it, he says. Acquisitions that add innovative technologies are also part of 10x’s strategies, and a new deal is on the horizon, the company suggests.
“The ultimate goal is, when you have your biological sample, to be able to measure everything about that sample—like all the different analytes, at the single-cell resolution, while also knowing where it’s all happening with spatial context,” says Saxonov. “We're just starting down that path.”