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Emily Singer

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Decode Ditches Drug Development

The revamped version of the company will focus on genetic research and diagnostics.

  • January 22, 2010

The Icelandic genomics company DeCode announced details of its rebirth yesterday, most notably dropping its drug development efforts. The company, which has churned out a huge body of genetic research in the last decade–much of it published in high profile scientific journals–filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S late last year. The company has spent more than $600 million but never turned a profit.

Decode began as a sort of national genomics effort, capitalizing on Iceland’s self-contained population, well-documented genealogies, and openness to genetic research to search for genes linked to different diseases. (In the early days, these characteristics allowed scientists to pinpoint these genes more easily than in a general population.) As genomics technology advanced, the company moved to whole genome association studies, identifying genes linked to heart disease, stroke, skin cancer and schizophrenia. In the process, DeCode generated a massive genomics database, as well as expertise in collecting and analyzing huge volumes of data, which it now hopes to capitalize on. Rather than trying to develop drugs on its own, the company plans to partner with pharmaceutical firms.

The company will continue to offer its consumer genetic-testing website, deCodeME, launched in 2007.

According to the New York Times,

The new DeCode is owned by Saga Investments, an alliance that includes two leading life science investment companies, Polaris Ventures and ARCH Venture Partners. Terrance McGuire, a general partner at Polaris, said DeCode had been recapitalized because its research and database, formed from the medical records of the Icelandic population, were a valuable asset. “From an investor’s perspective, it was the power of the content being created,” he said.

…Dr. Stefansson said that the company’s genetic research in Iceland would carry on just as before and that DeCode would “continue to outperform” its mostly university-based rivals in the United States and England. The commercial operation will be lead by Mr. Collier in the United States, Dr. Stefansson said.

For more of TR’s coverage of DeCode, check out this Q&A with Kari Stefansson from 2006, which highlights the company’s high hopes for drug development. And this feature describing its early efforts.

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