Founded only a few years ago, OpGen Inc. is facing the typical start-up challenges, such as raising funds and getting its name out to the rest of the industry.
Yet, in some ways, Madison, Wis.-based OpGen doesn't quite resemble a start-up company, said CEO Joseph Shaw.
Its "Optical Mapping" technology, which uses single-molecule DNA analysis technology to create genome- sequencing maps and to allow whole-genome analysis, already has found some use in the sector.
"What's unusual about us is, unlike a lot of start-up companies, we're generating revenue already because there is a proven demand for this technology," said Shaw, who was named OpGen's CEO at the end of November.
Shaw said he was drawn to the new technology, because he believes Optical Mapping will have a "long-term future and play a role in advancing the industry."
"But I was also interested in OpGen because it was a start-up company," he added. "I like putting teams together."
Before joining OpGen, Shaw served as president of Bank on a Cure, a global study project of the International Myeloma Foundation. He has held executive positions with other companies, including Australian conglomerate Ambri Ltd., Quantech, Cathra International and Johnson & Johnson.
"I've been in the business a long time," he said.
At OpGen, he will focus on raising money, seeking collaborations and continuing to advance the genome-mapping technology.
"Our primary focus is to change the method from an exploratory field to a routine procedure," Shaw said.
The Optical Mapping technology was developed by David Schwartz and associates at the University of Wisconsin. In 2001, Schwartz founded OpGen, which licensed the technology.
The Optical Mapping system is designed to compare genomes in whole populations. It enables researchers to obtain detailed genetic information for any organism, with no requirements for prior sequence information, PCR, synthesis, cloning or probes, OpGen said.
"It's basically a picture of a genome," Shaw said. "It can give anyone doing genome sequencing a picture and it shows how everything works together."
In the past, sequencing genomes was arduous work, a task that "took years and years and cost millions of dollars," he said. With the new technology, the wait is substantially shorter.
Shaw estimated that it takes about a month to complete a human genome but said the company was hoping to cut that down to less than a week.
He said OpGen has completed 10 to 15 genome maps, starting with bacteria and fungi and looking to expand human genome mapping.
In December 2003, OpGen completed a genome map of the Category A pathogen Francisella tularensis, the causative agent of tularemia, and, in February, the company created a whole-genome map of the fungal pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus (strain Af293) for an international project aimed at determining the genome sequence of the organism.
Also in February, OpGen began an Optical Mapping study of a type of brain tumor, known as oligodendroglioma, working with the Hermelin Brain Tumor Center, a division of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
"There are always some adverse reactions [to drugs], but genome sequencing could help explain why some patients have those reactions and others don't," Shaw said, adding that genome mapping could help doctors isolate problems and compare different patient responses.
Collaborating with other companies is "one of my primary focuses and aims," he said. "I hope to establish relations with some of the more classic and well-known companies."
For now, OpGen's genome mapping is done as a service upon requests from other companies and agencies, Shaw said, but added that "pharma companies will likely want to do their own mapping."
In a few years, OpGen already has come a long way, Shaw said. He added that the company began with just four people, including Colin Dykes, who now serves as executive vice president and chief scientific officer. Now the company has grown to 12, and there is need for more, including a vice president of research and development, as well as a sales force.
"We've just started to get some income over the last several months," Shaw said.
OpGen has received funding from Mason Wells of Milwaukee, Wisconsin Investments and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
To date, OpGen has raised $5 million and plans to raise funds in the future. Shaw said company officials are in the process of deciding on funding strategies. Shaw credits the work of Dykes and the early OpGen team for starting the business's revenue stream.
"They were able to get business and do the mapping when it was just four of them," he said. "What they were able to do was pretty impressive. I want to build on that kind of attitude."