People, Startups

Illumina’s founding scientist launches software startup to track fast-mutating hospital bugs

A tech company launched by one of Illumina’s founding scientists is stepping out of stealth mode today with gene sequencing software it says can monitor the spread of infectious disease — particularly fast-evolving strains difficult to keep tabs on in hospitals.

Todd Dickinson

The company, called Arc Bio, is led by Todd Dickinson — a guy you might recognize from his history in the genomics business. He was the first scientist employed by Illumina back in 1998, and he stuck around with the sequencing giant for nearly 13 years in varying leadership roles. He was recruited out of Illumina back in 2010 to work at BioNano (another San Diego sequencing company worth putting on your radar).

Since BioNano, Dickinson has helmed a couple startups under one big umbrella company called EdenRock Sciences. They just merged two such companies — a Stanford spinout and a Harvard spinout — to form Arc Bio in 2016. Since then, they’ve been quietly at work. Today, they’re announcing their first product: a cloud-based software called Galileo AMR, an antimicrobial resistance detection software that can do fast annotations for any gram-negative bacterial DNA sequence in less than five minutes, the company says.

Dickinson tells me they’re targeting public health organizations as their first customers; groups like the CDC and the NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information. With the right folks on board, Dickinson said Arc Bio’s software can monitor dangerous outbreaks and the fast-evolving mutations that can sweep hospitals.

“Our software can quickly identify which resistance genes are used in a particular ‘bug,’” Dickinson said. “Once they understand that, the public health officials can track where outbreaks originate — maybe down to which state it came from, or which hospital.”

One big value driver for Arc Bio is its database of strains, which Dickinson says they’ve been “meticulously curating.” The tech and database was obtained through an exclusive license from a small Australian company called Spokade. There, the tech was called MARA.

And public health is just phase one for Arc Bio. Ultimately, the company wants to deploy the tech in a clinical setting, allowing physicians to better diagnose and treat infections.

The company employs 22 people, and splits its headquarters between Cambridge, MA and Menlo Park, CA.


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