Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment. 

We’re back! Welcome to a new year and a brand new edition of The Short Read. This week we spoke to Hannes Smárason, Co-Founder and COO of genomic data specialists WuXi NextCODE. Name a national genome project, and there’s a good chance that WuXi NextCODE are involved somewhere. From the UK’s 100,000 Genomes Project to the newly announced Singapore Precision Medicine Effort, the company have carved out a reputation as one of the go to platforms for handling significant quantities of genome data. 

Hannes Smárason

Hannes Smárason, COO of WuXi NextCODE

What are you working on right now?

We are keeping ourselves busy installing our genomic big data platform in the biggest precision medicine projects around the world. We think that – just like in sequencing – there’s a big advantage for partners and patients to having one global standard for organizing and applying genomic data. That’s the root of enabling collaboration between population projects, hospitals and diagnostics laboratories and pharmaceutical companies, and it’s what we are trying to provide. 

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?

One of the biggest challenges is that there are so many areas in which genomics can improve healthcare. Many of these tasks are not only promising, they are complicated and really big. Because we are leaders in genomic big data, one of the first big jobs we have is to listen. We are working across the field to understand what people and enterprises want to do, and then showing them how the genome can help them to achieve their goals.

Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.

I’d like to see a few very big studies that demonstrate not only the medical but also the economic benefit of doing NGS diagnostics on every child that has a condition that doctors can’t diagnose in a first visit. This is one of the biggest near-term impacts that genomics is going to have on healthcare, and I am convinced that we are going to improve care for patients and lower the cost of care for the thousands of patients now force to suffer through diagnostic odysseys.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Having been a part of building and commercializing what is to date the most advanced computational platform for genomics

Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?

I’d invite Watson, Crick and Rosalind Franklin. I’ve seen the movies, read the accounts, but I’m still fascinated by the human imaginative interplay between them that led to conjuring the structure of DNA from the patchy evidence they had.

What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

Many come to mind, but probably the biggest has to do with the huge importance of grit – never giving up on an idea/ concept/ path. Perseverance is probably the most underestimated quality in success in any field – and it is most indispensable when your path leads to a dead-end and you have to start again.

Check back on January 17 for the next installment of The Short Read, where Eric Topol, professor of genomics and director of the Translational Science Institute at the Scripps Institute will be outspoken. Naturally!

Why not check out The Short Read archives?

George Church – “Follow your dreams, not the drove”

Amalio Telenti – Defying the “exome-centric” view

Anna Middleton – “It’s ok to be a bit creative and entrepreneurial”

Nan Doyle – “Get clear on what matters to you”  

David Smith – The “real keys to scientific success”