Sumit Jamuar, co-founder of Global Gene Corp, talks about the business potential of the genome and what three things companies need for research and development to thrive in the UK.
What’s your business background?
I’m a chemical engineer by way of training; I studied at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. I’ve spent time working for Mckinsey [in management consultancy] and at Lloyds Bank Group as a managing director at its corporate bank. I’ve also served as chief executive of
the State Bank of India investment bank in Europe.
My background is pretty much focused on building teams and businesses. I’ve had to support companies of all sizes, from start-ups to those worth hundreds-of-millions of pounds, so it has been varied.
How did you get involved in your current role?
I’m from a middle-class Indian background. After a point in my career, I started to look for opportunities that might link me back to the country or other developing areas. I was struck during a coffee with some of my contemporaries who were teaching or studying at Harvard. We were talking about the power of genomics [the science of genomes] and its potential to touch everyone’s lives in a positive way.
The promise of precision medicine [tailoring medicine to a person’s genetic background] is that it transforms medical treatment for all individuals. But the thing that’s holding it back is a lack of data.
When some friends – experts in genetics – and I looked into it, we realised that 60pc of the world’s population only make up less than 1pc of the genetic data that’s been collected. That’s now grown to about 5pc, but that’s how small it was when we started.
To truly deliver precision medicine and fulfil its potential, it must be available to everyone. Our company was launched in 2013 to democratise genetics.
What exactly is the genome and what’s its business potential?
I’m the non-technical one at my business, so I’ve had to ask this question before. The simplest way to think about it is that our DNA consists of four letters: A, C, T, G. There are more than 3 billion pairs of those letters in the double helix, arranged in 20,000 genes. Those genes are then arranged by 23 pairs of chromosomes.
Imagine it as a book of life: 23 subsections; 20,000 chapters; and the length of the book is 3 billion pages. What we’re trying to do is transcribe this book of life. That’s basically what genetic sequencing is.
Genetics, as a study, only understands about 1pc of [that book] now, but that’s already leading to life-changing drugs.
The ability to triage problems is essential when trying to grow a business in an emerging market
As we expand our knowledge, the potential to solve diseases is enormous. Pharmaceutical companies are now thinking about how to use this information for targeted drugs. One of the best examples is Herceptin, a drug that uses genetic information to better treat cancer. Our data can accelerate the development of drugs such as this.
Right now, we fall sick, go to the doctor, and we get a drug that’s intended to treat the condition or symptom. It may or may not work.
In the future, instead of treating a disease driven by a fault in DNA, you will be able to edit or replace that bit of DNA – curing, rather than treating, the problem.
We’re a business-to-business company. We work with pharma and biotech companies, and government, to share our data, ethically, based on populations that haven’t been mapped at scale before.
Why did you chose to base yourself in Cambridge?
We started by mapping data in India, but we knew that to reach global talent, we needed a base in the UK, which is why we’re building our research and development centre here. This is where the genome was first mapped. We’re on the ground where it all started. It gives us access to the top talent; we’re surrounded by global experts in science and mathematics.
We need that global top talent, which exists in places such as the UK, or Boston in the US, or Singapore. Places evolve as centres for excellence or expertise. Look at London and New York as financial centres, or Silicon Valley, for consumer tech.
The Wellcome Genome Campus in Cambridge enjoys a similar ecosystem. What an ecosystem needs is three things. Foremost is talent, which comes with a world-class university that provides courses that truly allow for specialisation.
Government commitment and investment is also vitally important. Endeavours such as ours, which have huge business and societal benefits, often need that to get started.
The third thing you need are companies – big pharma companies such as Astra Zeneca or large biotech businesses. This helps bring recognition from venture capitalists and other investors.
It’s all about combining expertise and knowledge, government support and clients, and funding. It’s very tough to create it and it’s a compelling advantage for the UK post-Brexit.
What do you like about business?
I love building teams and mentoring people. The way that we’re building this company is to draw on wide expertise to solve a problem.
Even in my corporate days, I built teams. I was running strategy for Lloyds wholesale bank. When it bought HBOS during the financial crisis, I put my hand up to help build the [corporate] real estate business support unit, because Lloyds realised that it had a big problem with the purchase. I was team member number one when Richard Dakin took charge of the unit.
That experience taught me how to triage problems, which is essential when trying to create and grow a business in an emerging market, where issues only reveal themselves over time.
Another lesson I’ve learnt came from one of my university professors, Ron Adner – success is not dependent on a great idea; it’s on who adopts the idea and learns how to build technology to apply it. You may have invented something amazing, but who’s the person that is going to invent something that makes that idea practical, and take hold and spread?
Source: The Telegraph