Summary:

Genomic-analysis startup Bina Technologies is trying to grow its footprint by giving away its appliances on a pay-per-use basis. It’s also expanding its capabilities to include analysis of exomes, a much smaller but very valuable component of human genes.

Bina Technologies, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup selling a specialized appliance for analyzing genomic data, is trying to reach a broader group of users by giving appliances to universities on a pay-per-use basis.

Bina, which launched in 2012, sells a product called the Bina Genomic Analysis Platform. It’s a box full of hardware and algorithms designed to run optimally together, a pairing the company says allows the Bina platform to be faster and more thorough than alternative methods. The Stanford genetics department is using a Bina appliance, founder and CEO Narges Bani Asadi told me, and has improved its turnaround time on analyzing a single genome by 100 times.

“The same operation [that used to take a week or more] takes a couple hours on the Bina platform,” she said.

However, not every university has the budget or workload to justify buying an appliance upfront (or paying for a monthly all-you-can use subscription, which is how Bina is sold). Thus the new on-demand option. The way it works, SVP of Business Development Mark Sutherland explained, is similar to having a Coke machine at a university or research institution. It doesn’t cost anything to have it there, but people pay when they need something from it.

It’s a model that makes quite a bit of sense. If you consider a university where numerous researchers might be working on different research under different grants, it’s likely no single researcher would need a dedicated appliance. Now, they can use it when they need it and, at the month’s end, only pay for the work they actually performed.

If there’s one catch, it’s that Bina expects a minimum number of jobs to run each month in order for it to make money on the arrangement. But, Sutherland said, Bina will leave appliances in place for at least six months at institutions choosing the on-demand offering, in the hopes that usage will pick up as more people realize it’s there and learn how to best utilize it.

The on-demand boxes will begin shipping in about four weeks, he noted, and the company already has a few customers lined up. In the coming year or two as privacy issues resolve themselves, Bani Asadi told me, Bina will probably offer the platform as a cloud service that will let researchers store and analyze sequenced genes on hosted resources.

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Bina is also expanding the utility of its platform to support exome analysis, something Bani Asadi said should help ensure that on-demand customers are finding enough opportunities to use it. Previously, Bina has only supported whole-genome analysis (“We started by solving the most-difficult problem,” Bani Asadi noted), which means a lot more data, a lot more time and a lot more cost. Exomes, which are the coding portions of genes, are only 1 to 2 percent of the whole, but can provide valuable information on about 85 percent of known genetic conditions, she explained.

The majority of genomic research right now is exome analysis, she added, with whole-genome analysis ideally saved for specialized research, cancer analysis or other complex cases. And because exome analysis generates so much less data and takes so much less time, researchers can analyze the same exome many times to ensure accurate results.

Genomic research, of course, is going to be a major source of data generation going forward — each genome can result in terabytes of data once analyzed, and it’s getting cheaper and easier to sequence them. Researchers and regulatory bodies will have to balance a wide range of concerns in this space, including tradeoffs between privacy and innovation, and the economics of whether it’s best to analyze data on-premises or in the cloud. It seems we’ll need to see a lot more innovation on the business side of things, similar to what Bina is doing, to account for all the considerations at play.

Here’s a video of Bani Asadi discussing the vision of Bina at our Structure conference in June.

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