Hannes Smárason

Hannes Smárason, COO of WuXi NextCODE

After WuXi NextCODE (WXNC) was acquired by Shanghai and US-based WiXi AppTec in 2015 and later merged with AppTec’s Genome Centre in Shanghai, it has made some impressive advancements. 

According to South China Morning Post, Hannes Smarason, co-founder and CEO, has said that WXNC’s tool does for medical researchers and clinicians what Google’s search engine did for internet users nearly two decades ago. 

He explained, “For the first time, technology has really come together in a unique way to enable an entirely new industry around low-cost data generation on people’s sequences. Together with the computational power and the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), to then make sense of and use that information for a variety of purposes is really opening up this market to significant disruption.”

One of WXNC’s founders, Dr Jeffrey Gulcher, added, “The difference between GORdb and other databases is that while they’re all relational databases, ours has a specific frame of reference – position on the genome – that facilitates the management of massive amounts of data on a genetic scale.”

By building partnerships with many of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, including the likes of Novartis, Abbvie and Bristol-Myers Squibb, they have been able to create the world’s largest genetic “knowledge base.”

“I think NextCODE is more sophisticated than [other genomics algorithms available publicly] and might have some more elegant interfaces and data access capabilities and analysis capabilities, and so from that perspective it’s probably a pretty good platform,” commented Alan Louie, research director for the life sciences practice at IDC. 

Looking ahead to the future, the company may soon be developing applications that give doctors the ability to diagnose more prevalent illnesses with increased accuracy, as well as to pharmaceutical companies who’ll have the ability to develop more effective treatments for these. 

“Soon what we want to be able to do is take your blood and look at it,” noted Thomas Chittenden,founding director of the WuXi NextCODE Advanced Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory. “And if there’s any circulating DNA that’s been shed by a tumour we’re getting to the point where we can identify the variety with 99.5% accuracy.”

Although the company faces a lot of competition sitting within one of the world’s largest markets, it is believed that their presence within China will reap advantages regardless. 

“One of the reasons we chose WuXi NextCODE is that it’s one of the very few companies in China that can access China and other global markets,” commented Trency Gu, vice-president at Sequoia Capital China which led a consortium that recently provided $240 million in financing for WXNC. 

“WuXi NextCODE is offering products with clear clinical demand.”

The opportunities within China for developing a market for AI leveraged genomic informatics are abundant. 

With China hoping to become a global AI leader by 2030, WXNC says that it has noticed interest administrations at all levels in China for the use of its tools as a matter of public health. 

Their recent funding round will help WXNC to grow worldwide. According to a statement, it plans to use the proceeds, “to accelerate the extension of its platform infrastructure and to bring new users and data on board through precision medicine and diagnostics partnerships; the commercialisation of its consumer solutions for the China market.”

With such acceleration taking place, growth in WXNC’s platform will drive change in medical treatments. 

Louie concluded, “I would argue that we will have a much greater understanding of the human genome within the next five years and there will be value in having that data down the road.”