Emerging Enterprise of the Year

At face value, e-business and genomic research may make for strange bedfellows. But they’re the complementary duo underscoring biotechnology company Genesis Research & Development’s foray into offshore markets.
Jim Watson, CEO, started the company in 1994 with little more than $4 million cash and fist full of bright ideas. His main goal was for Genesis to foot-it with the big boys on biotechnology’s global stage.
As genomics research company, Genesis searches for gene therapies that can be turned into commercial products. As it develops these therapies and its genomic platform, it searches for partners, to share the risk and to contribute cash to the company’s ongoing developments.

Mining databases
To the uninitiated, genomic platform is group of new molecular technologies that increase the speed and power of genetic research. Put simply, genomics is all about collecting genes from human and plant cells and storing these in sophisticated computer database. It’s then up to scientists to run DNA sequence search around the clock until they find something they’re looking for.
“In collaboration with industry partners, we mine these databases with the purpose of developing novel biotechnology products that have value within our partners’ industries,” says Watson.
What these databases contain is vast amounts of information about how particular cell functions and grows. But this research doesn’t come cheap. In fact, total research expenditure since Genesis commenced in 1994 now exceeds $60 million. In the case of human therapies, the costs are prohibitive for relative newcomer like Genesis to bear on its own.

Breaking new ground
The company’s most exciting development to date is PVAC, ground-breaking treatment for psoriasis, skin-disorder affecting around 100 million people globally. PVAC was developed in conjunction with long-standing research partner, (Nasdaq-listed) Seattle-based Corixa Corporation.
Other collaborations
Through major collaboration with numerous other multinational corporations, Genesis is also developing portfolio of patents for therapies for asthma and eczema and for improved products in forestry and horticulture. The company is also working towards prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines for tuberculosis.
Much of the capital Genesis needed to establish its core genomics platform was generated through private placements. For example, in June last year, Genesis raised $13.8 million from six institutional investors.

Going public
But raising capital for ongoing research meant Jim Watson had to take the company public. In September 2000, Genesis became the first biotech company to list on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. The $35 million of the $51.7 million raised through the initial public offering (IPO) was earmarked for further ground-breaking research.
Going public has hastened the speed at which Genesis can build and search ongoing databases. The company’s key mantra has always been the same. Its main goal is to capture and protect through patent, intellectual assets that have significant downstream commercial application – especially before tight niche of mostly European and US-based competitors.
One of the company’s first coups in this area is the US-based ArborGen. Now in its second year of operations, ArborGen was formed by Fletcher Challenge Forests, International Papers, Westvaco and Genesis to commercialise its forestry genome technology. In fact, Genesis was the first biotechnology company in the world to accumulate forestry gene databases.
Genesis Research & Development has scientific staff from 17 countries worldwide. Between them, they make up the brain-trust of what’s now recognised as the country’s leading discovery-based biotechnology company. That said, Watson says partnerships will always remain key competency.
“The ability to reach into international markets, and forge partnerships with complementary organisations is measure of our success. At least as much as our scientific efficiency and intellectual property creation.”

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