Personalizing Medicine One Gene at a Time: The Story of Tute Genomics

We’ve provided a very intuitive product that doesn’t require a user manual, that essentially lets anybody become a geneticist.

Genetics can be an intimidating subject. Anyone who ever attended high school knows this. When technical terms start getting thrown around, my normal strategy involves finding the nearest secluded room and curling up in the fetal position. And whimpering. Lots and lots of whimpering. So why should you continue reading an article written by someone who admits to knowing next to nothing about the human genome? Because I interviewed someone who does.

Reid Robison, CEO/co-founder of Tute Genomics and recently named a top-40 Healthcare Transformer, knows and understands genetics. In fact, he knows it so well that he helped create an analytics software enabling users to quickly and efficiently sort through the human genome, finding health and disease in a relatively quick amount of time.

“In the newborn ICU, the most expensive place to spend a night, you have these babies that doctors don’t know what is causing their disease or symptoms,” Robison told Beehive Startups in a recent interview. “There are over 4,000 possibilities of genetic diseases. The old way of doing genetic testing was to sequence one gene at a time, costing $1,000 a pop, and it would take several weeks to get the results back. Now with next-generation sequencing, you can sequence the entire human genome with a rapid turnaround time and then use that to get treatment that much sooner. Saves a lot of money and more importantly saves lives.”

While focused on genetics research at the University of Utah, Robison met co-founder Kai Wang and began delving into the world of next-generation sequencing methods, setting in motion the eventual inception of Tute Genomics. In an effort to remedy the time-consuming, outdated model of genetic testing, Robison and Wong created a cloud-based software program that basically allowed anyone — with minimal training — to become a geneticist. Time saved equals money saved equals lives saved.

“We founded Tute in late 2012 to really bring genome analysis to the masses and in turn enable personalized medicine,” Robison said. “We’ve provided a very intuitive product that doesn’t require a user manual, that essentially lets anybody become a geneticist. You can drag a human genome into the platform, it automatically gets tied to our database and then with a few clicks you can find genetic mutations associated with any given disease type.”

Imagine a world where doctors can quickly and accurately pinpoint the problem, prescribe the necessary remedy, and get you on your way. This is the world next-generation sequencing is helping to create. Bolstered by a $1.5 million seed round in summer of 2013 — the record for largest round ever out of BoomStartup — Tute Genomics began to assert itself in the genetic sequencing world. And as efficiency increased, the actual cost of getting your genome sequenced continued to plummet.

“The cost of sequencing the human genome — reading off the six billion letters that make each of us who we are — has dropped from several billion dollars when the first sequence was done over a decade ago, down to $100,000 when Steve Jobs paid to have his genome sequence, to last year when we hit the long awaited $1,000 genome that was announced and felt to be the tipping point towards widespread adoption in the clinical world,” Robison said.

Don’t let the subject matter fool you — Tute Genomics is a big data, SaaS company. Their data just happens to be the human genome. By using cloud-based software that lets healthcare organizations analyze genomes for health and disease, Tute Genomics eases the process for lab technicians when it comes time to make either a genetic diagnosis or new discovery.

“We save a tremendous amount of time and energy, which lets the experts focus on what to do with this information and turn it into actionable insight for the patient,” Robison said. “This just lets the lab focus on doing more tests while we take the grunt work out of the process.”

The medical industry is notoriously slow when it comes to changing procedure — because who doesn’t like wasted time and money? — which poses a problem as Tute Genomics tries to bridge the gap between past and future. Robison isn’t afraid. As researchers continue to search for answers to various problems, quick and effective genome analysis becomes key.

“Genomics is transforming healthcare but it’s going to take time before it becomes widespread,” Robison said. “This new way of practicing medicine — a genome-guided approach — is being adopted first in oncology, where the stakes are really high. Most cancer drugs being approved have a very specific molecular target and the side effects are serious, so you really have to pick carefully who gets what medicine. The human genome is key in guiding those decisions.”

We shouldn’t be intimidated by genetics. In the past, people outside the genetics field have cowered from the subject, humiliated and frustrated by either lack of understanding or unwillingness to learn. No more. With the help of Tute Genomics and Reid Robison, we now understand the importance of next-generation sequencing and realize that maybe, just maybe, there is precision medicine — and with it a cure for cancer — waiting down the road.

Published 2/5/2015

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