August 24, 2016

EBD Group

Second Genome new CEO looks to neighboring Genentech as a model for pioneering a new field

To get down to the bottom of what makes Second Genome tick, you have to start with Todd DeSantis and his bioinformatics team. 

DeSantis is a co-founder of Second Genome and a 17-year veteran of his field, analyzing the database Second Genome has gathered on the microbiome, that infinitely complex array of microbes that play a big role in orchestrating human health.

DeSantis has served as an analyst for the NIH Human Microbiome Project and worked on cataloguing microbial diversity. Before he helped found the company, he was a software developer at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where he focused on the microbiome. And for years now, his biotech company has been able to fund part of its operations by putting that tech platform to work for clients. 

Two months ago, the biotech flagged an ongoing shift in focus, boosting its latest venture round to USD 51 million after adding an USD 8 million contribution from GlaxoSmithKline’s SR One — jumping into a syndicate that already included the venture arms at Pfizer and Roche — and bringing in microbiome vet Glenn Nedwin as the new CEO.

Nedwin joined the South San Francisco company from Taxon Biosciences, an industrial microbiome company just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. He was making progress on product development, including a plant growth-promoting microbe, when DuPont stepped in and bought Taxon in 2015, interested in that product as well as using the platform there for its ag work.

Now, Nedwin works in South San Francisco, the heart of a biotech hub that radiates through the region’s hundreds of drug developers. And he only has to look down the street, where Genentech is based, to find the role model he’d like to follow.

 “The whole microbiome space is still quite new,” Nedwin tells me. Much like Genentech was quite new to recombinant DNA back in 1982.

“This is the new paradigm for drug discovery,” says Nedwin. “How microbes keep you healthy or how to stop them from making you sick. In nature, microbes don’t live by themselves, they live with their buddies. They rely on buddies, as a consortium, they need each other. That unit is doing something functional.” 

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