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Edinburgh tech spinout aims to ‘democratise data’ to boost medical research

Posted: 13th January 2022

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have launched a spinout company that aims to democratise genetic data access and cut from days to minutes the time it takes to analyse millions of genetic records.

Omecu Ltd promises wide-ranging benefits in drug discovery and personalised medicine, while improving patient data security.

The company draws on three years of research led by Dr Oriol Canela-Xandri at the MRC Human Genetics Unit, within the University of Edinburgh’s Institute of Genetics and Cancer, and Dr Konrad Rawlik at the University’s Roslin Institute. It has been launched with the support of Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service.

It is estimated that global human genomic data is doubling in size every seven months and may soon exceed other big data generators such as astronomy and the internet. Although this data has the potential to revolutionise medicine and lead to new therapeutics and diagnostics, these benefits rely on the ability to unlock clinically actionable knowledge from the data. The obstacles to accessing such data can prevent valuable information being extracted, by making the process very costly and time-consuming.

The Omecu team has developed a computation engine and web platform that will transform how genomic data is securely accessed and efficiently analysed.

Doctors Canela-Xandri and Rawlik have been supported by Edinburgh Innovations since 2019. They participated in the SETSquared ICURe programme in 2020, and received funding from Medical Research Council grants and the University’s Data-Driven Entrepreneurship Seed Fund and Fast Track Mentor initiatives, supported by the Scottish Funding Council. They have recently been awarded £288,000 from Innovate UK, which will allow Omecu to refine its prototype and progress commercial engagement.

Omecu is co-founded by Dr Canela-Xandri and Dr Rawlik alongside CEO Les Gaw, an experienced entrepreneur, investor and adviser to early-stage technology companies, who was introduced to the research team by Edinburgh Innovations.

Dr Canela-Xandri, who is a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University, said: “Our ambition is to create a paradigm shift where disease experts without a computer science background are able to easily query fragmented data sets, while cutting costs and without requiring the data-holding organisation to expose the data itself.

“Our recent funding awards mean we can now accelerate the development of our prototype and move towards a commercial product.”

Dr George Baxter, CEO of Edinburgh Innovations, said: “Genomic data holds great promise for humanity, and the Omecu team have found a way to make it far easier for clinicians to make use of that data. We’re extremely proud to help researchers to launch a company with such potential.”

Professor Wendy Bickmore, Director of the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Having a rapid way to extract useful knowledge from large genomic datasets will accelerate new discoveries and new treatments for human disease.”

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