Illumina illuminates informatics

New leadership, NextBio acquisition will usher in company’s focus on building an enterprise informatics solutions business

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SAN DIEGO—Illumina will greet 2014 with a new informatics regime and a firm foothold in “Big Data” analytics. Having fended off a $5.7-billion takeover bid from competitor Roche earlier this year, Illumina is closing out 2013 with a renewed focus on building a solid foundation for an enterprise informatics solutions business, as the genetic analysis service provider announced in mid-October sweeping organizational changes that have installed new leadership dedicated to that effort. Just a few weeks later, Illumina followed up those changes with an announcement that it will acquire Santa Clara, Calif.-based NextBio, a leader in clinical and genomic informatics, for an undisclosed sum.
Illumina confirmed its 2013 financial guidance provided on Oct. 21, and the NextBio acquisition closed at the end of October. As for the organizational changes, those changes will take effect as Illumina rings in the new year.
“By establishing a strong focus in enterprise informatics solutions, we will be able to build the foundation upon which institutions can deliver precision medicine using genomic information,” CEO Jay Flatley said in a letter to Illumina employees.
Dr. Nick Naclerio, who currently serves as senior vice president of corporate development, will continue that role, but also assume the leadership of this key business area to enable the storage, analysis, understanding and sharing of genomic and phenotypic information. Other additions to Illumina’s new leadership team include Francis deSouza, who currently serves as president of products and services at Symantec Corp., to the role of president; Dr. Kirk Malloy, Illumina’s current vice president of customer solutions, as leader of the Life Sciences business unit; Tristan Orphan, who will move from his current role as chief commercial officer to general manager of the Reproductive and Genetic Health unit; Dr. Rick Klausner, a recent hire as Illumina’s chief medical officer, as leader of the Oncology unit; and finally, Matt Posard, currently senior vice president and general manager of Illumina’s Translational and Consumer Genomics business, as leader of the New and Emerging Markets unit.
NextBio’s employees will join Illumina’s new Enterprise Informatics business unit, which Naclerio will lead along with NextBio Co-Founder Ilya Kupershmidt and Chief Technology Officer Satnam Alag. According to Naclerio, the acquisition came about after Illumina measured NextBio against its internal and external solutions during the last year to ensure that it was a good strategic fit.
“We also spent time getting to know the team and making sure that the organization would fit into Illumina’s culture,” he says. “We’ve always recognized NextBio a leader in Big Data analytics for clinical and genomic information, and see the acquisition as a way to extend Illumina’s leadership in cloud-based bioinformatics solutions. NextBio brings a great team with nearly a decade of experience in enterprise informatics and established relationships with leading pharmaceutical companies and medical research institutions.”
NextBio’s big-data platforms, which are currently used by researchers and clinicians in more than 50 commercial and academic institutions, aggregate and analyze large quantities of phenotypic and genomic data for research and clinical applications. The platforms allow customers to quickly compare their experimental results against thousands of published and private data sets by means of a unique correlation engine that pre-computes billions of significant connections between disparate data elements and helps discover new associations. NextBio Clinical, which in 2012 passed an independent HIPAA audit, is designed for seamless integration with existing clinical and research systems. Backed by highly scalable Software as a Service enterprise technology, it is capable of analyzing petabytes of data.
Adding this platform to its arsenal of bioinformatics solutions will “accelerate the discovery of new associations between the human genome and disease, and ultimately, enable the application of those discoveries within healthcare,” says Naclerio.
“Their software platform is the most versatile solution we have seen for analyzing very large sets of diverse data and presenting results in a manner that is intuitive for the non-bioinformatician to use,” he says. “Their knowledge base contains one of the largest curated collections of study results available. These capabilities complement Illumina’s BaseSpace platform that provides an open environment for storing, analyzing and sharing next-generation sequencing data, and will enable us to deliver seamless sample to result solutions to our customers.”
BaseSpace is a cloud-computing environment for next-generation sequencing data analysis, designed specifically to meet the needs of biologists. While BaseSpace and NextBio are both general-purpose platforms, “our top priorities for vertical applications will be supporting our business units in Oncology and Reproductive and Genetic Health, as well as enabling new applications that may be catalyzed by our New and Emerging Markets business unit,” Naclerio notes.
Illumina plans to grow NextBio’s current operations in Santa Clara while integrating them organizationally with the company’s development team in San Diego, according to Naclerio.

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