More than a decade after the sizzle of genomics investments has faded, Amgen, an American biotechnology giant, is buying out one of the field’s most important firms, deCODE Genetics.
Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, California, will pay $415 million for deCODE Genetics, based in Reykjavik. When genomics failed to produce the promise of new drug targets in the 2000s, many investors, including large drug firms, shed their stakes in companies that dealt with disease-related data and shifted to companies who worked with actual compounds in clinical trials.
deCODE Genetics has no active clinical trials, but it has a lot of data. It’s chiefly known for producing a flow of publications pinpointing genetic culprits and possible disease mechanisms for conditions like neurodegeneration, cancer, cardiovascular disease and psychosis.
The key to deCODE’s scientific success is its access to genetic data, genealogies, and medical records of 140,000 Icelanders, roughly half of Iceland’s population. The firm’s ability to correlate genetic information with Iceland’s extensive medical records is one of the reasons why the firm has been able to make discoveries.
Low-cost sequencing and electronic medical records are allowing for more information to be extracted from population-genetics studies, making genomics more attractive to drug companies. Amgen will use deCODE’s data, technology and expertise to identify which experimental drugs will be most likely to succeed. Two of Amgen’s drug candidates take aim at protein targets, which were discovered using genetic data.
This means that deCODE might be finally able to use its genetic data to benefit patients. The firm racked up huge debts in the mid-2000s and failed to win investors as Iceland was plunged into recession in 2008. It declared bankruptcy in 2009 and was rescued by some of its original investors, who acquired the firm for about $14 million and invested another $45 million.
The CEO of deCODE states that they will have no layoffs and will probably need to hire more staff. The DNA samples will remain in Iceland, and access will be done through deCODE, subject to stringent privacy-protection policies and oversight by an ethics committee of Icelandic citizens.