Finding Solutions to Rare Diseases through Genomics: An Interview with Hannes Smárason, WuXi NextCODE

Innovation That Matters
Hannes Thor Smárason interview

Hannes Thor Smárason co-founded NextCODE Health in 2013 along with Dr. Jeff Gulcher and currently serves at COO of WuXi NextCODE. Previously, Mr. Smárason served as Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President of Business and Finance at deCODE genetics during which time the company achieved worldwide recognition as the global leader in analyzing and understanding the human genome. During his tenure, Mr. Smárason led the first IPO by an Icelandic company in the U.S., structured and negotiated alliances with pharmaceutical companies, and led the strategic acquisition of a drug discovery company. Prior to joining deCODE Genetics, he was a consultant at McKinsey & Company serving Fortune 100 clients in the finance, healthcare, and hospitality sectors. We had the opportunity to sit down with our Hannes this week to hear about the achievements of WuXi NextCODE to date and what to expect from NextCODE going forward.

Please tell us a bit more about your background before WuXi NextCODE.

Hannes: Before cofounding NextCODE Health, I was involved in advancing population genomics work in Iceland at  deCODE genetics for many years.  After the sale of deCODE to Amgen, Jeff and I spun out NextCODE Health to advance and deploy the large-scale IT and analytics developed in Iceland  to advance medicine and health around the world. In 2015, we joined forces with WuXi to assemble WuXi NextCODE – the world’s leading genomics platform – uniquely integrating high-throughput sequencing, data storage and downstream analysis.

How has partnership with WuXi helped expand NextCODE’s capabilities in 2015. What is on the horizon for this year?

Hannes: The partnership between WuXi AppTec and NextCODE is both deep and broad. It is deep in specific areas, including tapping into and providing unique services to the network of clients that WuXi AppTec serves around the world. It is broad in that it allows us to be present in many markets and cutting edge activities, such as the China Precision Medicine Initiative. This enhances our ability to commercialize our comprehensive capabilities. On the horizon for this year is the ongoing extension of our technology in our core market of massive platform solutions for large scale and population projects. There our goal is to solidify our position as the leader and global standard for at-scale precision medicine. Also on the horizon is the launch and market expansion of our pioneering portfolio of key products in consumer wellness, carrier testing and rare disease.

WuXi NextCODE collaborates with a number of partners, including the Boston Children’s Hospital. Please tell us more about that partnership and what you have been able to accomplish through the collaboration.

Hannes: The key to a successful collaboration is a win-win formula. With Boston Children’s Hospital we have managed to bridge the  gap between providing a clinical testing service through research as they are part and parcel of the same enterprise: finding the key to rare and devastating illnesses. A noteworthy example of our abilities in this area is when we helped a woman in Cleveland suffering from a 32-year diagnostic odyssey find a resolution in just three weeks. This remarkable story was highlighted in Bloomberg News. 

Genomics is a very hot topic in the life science industry. What do you predict will be some of the most significant developments in genomics and data analysis in 2016, and how may they impact better solution for patients?

Hannes: One of the transformative trends in 2016 is the introduction of high throughput cloud-based genomic analysis, which will begin to shape the delivery of precision medicine worldwide. This will impact patients’ lives directly by helping to unblock the data analysis bottleneck. Wellness and disease are, of course, opposite sides of the same coin. Wellness can be achieved both by both staying healthy and by successfully diagnosing and treating disease. This is the dual mission of our HealthCODE product and our partnerships with wellness leaders worldwide.

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