By Kevin Davies
September 7, 2011 | EXCLUSIVE -- Genizon Biosciences, the Montreal-based genomics company seeking the genes responsible for inherited disorders in the Quebec founder population, has ceased operations.
According to Jonathan Ordon, vice president of the Danbury Group, which is handling an auction of Genizon assets next week, the company was placed into receivership on July 7, 2011. PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was named the court-appointed receiver by the Superior Court of Quebec. The Genizon web site has been shut down.
According to one former Genizon executive who spoke to Ordon, the bottom line was that technology surpassed Genizon, including next-generation sequencing technology. Although the company has a trove of data, potential clients were interested but not at the prices Genizon was seeking.
In February 2005, Bio-IT World featured Galileo Genomics, as Genizon was then known, on the cover. Genizon’s approach, focusing on the founding population of French immigrants who settled in Quebec in the early 1600s, resembled to some extent the approach of deCODE Genetics in working with the Icelandic population.
Although the structure of the populations and thus the analytical methods differed somewhat, both companies sought to leverage their expertise in mapping and identifying susceptibility genes for complex disorders into new drugs, either internally (in the case of deCODE), or via partnerships in the case of Genizon. Ironically, or perhaps not, deCODE itself emerged from bankruptcy in January 2010.
Genizon netted some lucrative funding deals over the years from big pharma, including Pfizer, which bought a stake in the company along with rights to drugs in Alzheimer’s disease and attention-deficit disorder, and Genentech (for Crohn’s disease). But in recent years, several senior executives had left the company, including Jean-Francois Levesque, who managed the IT group, Tim Keith (former VP science), chief operating officer René Paulussen, as well as Bill Cheliak and Gregg Nyhus, who handled business development.
“My understanding was that the company was trying to raise funds,” says PwC partner and receiver, Philippe Jordan. “It tied to find a purchaser, either money or a friend. Unfortunately, it found neither.”
Jordan said there were several creditors who had funded Genizon’s operations, including Investment Quebec, the equity branch of the provincial Quebec government, which funded upwards of $9 million, as well as a European fund. Investment Quebec decided that the situation “had gone on long enough.” “The company also came to the conclusion at this point that it was in the best interests to cease operations.”
Aside from the liquidation of Genizon’s tangible assets, the more pertinent question, says Jordan, is what to do with the biobank – thousands of blood and DNA samples stored in -80 degree C freezers. “Genizon built a bank of genetic material and computer modeling, research that stems from the biobank,” he says. The goal is “to find a place to house these data. They don’t want to lose it. It may not have any monetary value, but it does have an academic value.”
“This stuff is under license. It belongs to the hospitals (where it was collected),” says Jordan. “There are some thorny issues if it came to a question of destroying it.”
Jordan says that discussions with an unnamed institution were nearing a final decision, likely within the next few weeks. “If we don’t have to destroy the bank, that would be the ideal scenario,” he says. A panel of experts is due to submit a report on how worthy the data are.
On the Block
The Danbury Group is serving as the liquidators, says Ordon. “We’re in charge of the assets, we’re the court-appointed liquidator,” he said.
The contents available for auction (on September 14) include robotic liquid handling equipment from Tecan, a Beckman Coulter Biomek FX system, eight Illumina Bead Array systems, a pair of Nikon Eclipse research microscopes; an Applied Biosystems real-time PCR System; a pair of GE Healthcare (Molecular Dynamics) MegaBACE systems; an Agilent Bio Analyser; a Molecular Dynamics Typhoon imaging unit; and assorted centrifuges, ovens, incubators, freezers and fridges.
Also on offer: the complete contents of the executive offices, including computers, laptops, servers, printers and shredders.
This article also appeared in the 2011 September-October issue of Bio-IT World magazine.