Based: Menlo Park, CA
CEO: Hugh Martin
The Scoop: After running in stealth mode for several years, Pacific Biosciences burst into the open with some of the most significant venture backing the industry has seen. PacBio plans to make whole genome sequencing first a routine, economical lab experiment and then a tool that can industrialize personalized medicine. And it's scooping up some of the best and brightest in high-tech as well as biotech.
What makes it Fierce: Pacific Biosciences isn't shy about proclaiming its ambition. The genetic sequencing outfit describes itself upfront as a "bold company developing a transformative DNA sequencing platform."
"We have a real solid belief that the arrival of this entirely new, industrialized personalized medicine will allow creation of any number of new large companies, and we would like to be one of them," says CEO Hugh Martin.
In two years time PacBio says it will have new instruments on the market that will sequence DNA dramatically faster and at a far lower cost than today's products.
"Today Illumina and others take 8 to 10 days, and we will do it in five to 30 minutes," says Martin. Researchers can use instruments that read 75 to 100 bases of DNA now, while future products will read thousands in the same stretch.
Martin sees a two-step approach to a new era of personalized medicine. The first step involves getting instruments onto the market that make it possible to rapidly sequence DNA on large groups of people who share a common disease. That can revolutionize biomedical research and offer lucrative returns to the company that supplies the technology and agents needed to run the tests. The second step involves whole genome sequencing that the average person can afford. When that technology is available to Main Street patients, then suppliers will be able to trade radically lower prices for a mass market.
"What we really need to do is dramatically lower the cost of sequencing and decrease the time it takes to sequence, then we can turn disease discovery into a software problem," says the CEO. "You can take 1,000 men with prostate tumors, sequence their normal and tumor DNA and put it in a computer and discover what common mutations led to this disease state."
That explains why Pacific Biosciences just hired Eric Schadt as its CSO. Schadt is one of the world's foremost experts on the link between genetic mutations and disease, and he will take a lead in helping the company develop the kind of instruments researchers need.
It hasn't hurt PacBio that Kleiner Perkins is backing the company. The venture group likes to put significant sums into companies that it thinks can offer new technology that will remake markets from the ground up.
"We have 195 people in R&D and 100 of them are from technology," says Martin. Fields like optics and real-time software developers. "We've mined companies in the Bay Area to take the best in technology work and marry it to biotech."
What to look for: Revolutions don't come cheap. "Last year we were fortunate and raised $120 million," says Martin. "We will need to continue to raise more money as we continue to go forward," and that could come from either public or private money.
Venture backers: Deerfield Capital Management, Intel Capital, Morgan Stanley, Redmile Group, T. Rowe Price, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Alloy Ventures, Maverick Capital, AllianceBernstein, DAG Ventures, and Teachers' Private Capital.