By George! DNAnexus CTO George Asimenos Recognized as Top Voice in Precision Medicine

George AsimenosWith his background in comparative metagenomics, silicon compilers, and elliptic curve cryptanalysis, George Asimenos was well poised to pioneer the bioinformatics platforms needed to make precision medicine a reality. He has now been recognized alongside other genomics luminaries from academia and industry as one of the Top 25 Voices in Precision Medicine.

Culled from a list of 200 nominations from around the world, the BIS Research and Insight Monk initiative showcases and celebrates the diversity and talent among the interdisciplinary leaders of the healthcare industry and highlights their influence on the industry.

“We went through a rigorous process of analysing the initial pool of nominations and shortlisting the Top 25 Voices through an iterative process based on eight core parameters including product developments, publications, entrepreneurial achievements, and years of experience, among others,” said Wahid Khan, principal analyst at BIS Research.

As the Chief Technical Officer of DNAnexus, George has played a critical role in building the company’s scientific and engineering foundation and exploring ways in which our technology can be used to craft novel experiences that transcend traditional genomics boundaries.

In the Insight Monk report, he spoke about genetic testing.

“Clinical sequencing is increasingly applied in oncology to advance personalized treatment of cancer, identification and treatment of Mendelian diseases, and in prenatal genetic testing,” he said.  

Top Voices AwardPrior to DNAnexus, George conducted research at Stanford University, where he participated in early efforts to analyze the human genome as part of the ENCODE Pilot Project. He has been at the forefront of precision medicine ever since, most recently hosting a panel on the challenges in applying AI on biomedical data at the 2019 Precision Medicine World Conference.

Congratulations to George and his fellow awardees, which also includes George D. Yancopoulos, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., one of our collaborators for the UK Biobank project.

Another Feather in the Cap for PrecisionFDA Platform: A 2019 FedHealthIT Innovation Award

In the four years since its launch, the precisionFDA platform has helped foster collaboration, further innovation, and develop regulatory standards for NGS-based drugs and devices. And now it has been recognized for the second year in a row for its contributions to advancing scientific research through providing a secure and collaborative online environment.

The precisionFDA platform was announced as a 2019 FedHealthIT Innovation Award Winner at a special reception on June 11 at the Washington Press Club, where more than 300 federal health leaders from government and industry gathered to recognize top innovation efforts from the federal health technology and consulting community. Nominated and chosen by our peers from across the federal health IT sector, the awardees were selected based on “driving innovation and results” at Veterans Affairs, Military Health, Health and Human Services, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“We are thrilled that precisionFDA has once again been recognized for creating an ecosystem in which members continue to contribute and innovate,” said DNAnexus’s Chief Cloud Officer, Omar Serang and member of the precisionFDA NGS sequencing team. “Its proven success has inspired other scientific partnerships, and we are proud to power portals that foster such innovative collaboration.”

PrecisionFDA is an online, cloud-based, virtual research space where members of the genomics community can experiment, share data and tools, collaborate, and define standards for evaluating and validating analytical pipelines. This open-source community platform, which has become a global reference standard for variant comparison, includes members from academia, industry, healthcare, and government, all working together to further innovation and develop regulatory standards for NGS-based drugs and devices. Launched in December 2015, the precisionFDA community includes nearly 5,000 users across 1,200 organizations, with more than 38 terabytes of genomic data stored.

Last year, the precisionFDA Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) Team received the FDA Commissioner’s Special Citation Award for Outstanding Achievement and Collaboration, which recognizes superior achievement of the Agency’s mission through teamwork, partnership, shared responsibility, and fostering collaboration to achieve the FDA goals.

Teaming Up To Improve Outcomes for Multiple Sclerosis Patients

Featured Webinar: A Novel Approach to Applying Genomic Patient Data to Improve Multiple Sclerosis Treatments. Watch Today.

Megan Laurance Author





It’s World MS Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of the invisible symptoms of multiple sclerosis and its unseen impact on quality of life for an estimated 2.3 million people across the globe.

Indeed, multiple sclerosis is a complex, lifelong disease whose highly variable course means that MS patients face each day not knowing which potentially disabling symptoms might strike. Some may experience vision challenges or cognitive impairment. Others may lose the ability to walk. Still others may enjoy long periods of remission.

Despite the prevalence of this immune-mediated disease of the central nervous system, its specific phenotypic and genetic drivers remain unknown and the disease has no cure. And since MS varies so dramatically from person to person, from day to day, with multiple disease progression subtypes, it is extremely complex to study.

While a number of genetic studies have contributed to our understanding of genetic predisposition to MS, most clinicians lack the resources to perform more extensive sequencing of their patients’ DNA to identify potential genetic contributions to disease onset, progression, and therapeutic response. MS researchers also believe the disease is probably underdiagnosed, but there is a lack of biomarkers or blood tests to help them make a more precise diagnosis or understand their individual patients’ prognosis and likely response to medications.

“We know that disease course and presentation of symptoms vary by gender, age, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity. But we don’t know which treatment would be optimal for which patients, and why,” says neurologist Joanna Cooper, MD, an MS expert at Sutter Health, whose physicians care for approximately 3,000 MS patients with all forms of the illness who come from diverse communities in 26 hospitals and 28 ambulatory surgery centers across Northern California.

Adding to the difficulties in tackling the complexities of MS is the fact that the disease-specific datasets needed to fuel a precision medicine approach to MS research either don’t exist, fall short in clinical or genomic data, or aren’t accessible to the drug companies trying to develop diagnostic and therapeutic tools.

Addressing our gaps in understanding this complex disease will require a different approach to collecting data on MS patients, and a technology platform that enables clinician researchers to interrogate that data to identify better biomarkers of diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment response.

Luckily, complexity is where DNAnexus excels. Our DNAnexus Apollo™ Platform melds enormous amounts of clinical and genetic data in an easily explorable database that enables seamless, secure collaboration among medical, academic, and pharmaceutical teams who are all devoted to improving health outcomes for patients with diseases like MS.

If Ever The Twain Shall Meet

Recognizing the common goals of MS researchers in healthcare systems and pharmaceutical R&D teams presented an opportunity for DNAnexus to bridge the discovery gap with a unique data solution. By partnering with healthcare systems to run observational studies collecting extensive clinical and genomic data on their MS populations, DNAnexus could enable healthcare providers to gain access to genomic data generated with  the latest sequencing technology. Pharmaceutical companies would gain access to de-identified real-world clinico-genomic data from diverse patient populations. And patients would ultimately benefit from accelerated discoveries, and improved treatment pathways and outcomes, while feeling secure that their data and privacy are being protected. Everybody wins.

This is the motivation behind our new Clinico-Genomic Data Solution, which will leverage its network of healthcare partners to create high-quality, longitudinal, deeply curated disease-specific datasets.

The first partners in the project will be Sutter Health and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

DNAnexus Sutter MS Study

A multi-disciplinary team of clinical researchers, data analysts, and neurologists  at the Sutter Health Center for Precision Medicine will collect extensive clinical and imaging data from MS patients. The Genome Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) will generate clinical-grade genomic data from blood samples contributed by the program’s participants. These linked clinico-genomic datasets will then be uploaded to the DNAnexus Apollo Platform, where Sutter researchers and approved collaborators can access the data for translational research.

Beginning in June 2019, the Sutter team will collect electronic health record (EHR) data, patient-reported outcomes, imaging data, and blood samples from more than 500 MS patients. UPMC will perform whole exome sequencing (WES) of the samples, which will also be kept in a biobank for future analysis, if needed. Patients will be followed for five years.

Sutter scientists will be able to use the data to conduct their own precision medicine research to inform therapeutic decisions for their patients. De-identified data will also be shared with approved collaborators (e.g. pharmaceutical R&D teams ), who are eager for longitudinal, diverse, real-world data that could shed insight into the natural history of the disease, the heterogeneity in disease progression and response to disease modifying therapies, as well as the genetic underpinnings of disease subtypes, progression, and patient response to disease-modifying therapies.

At the Nexus of it all is DNAnexus.

With our powerful computational platforms, our expertise curating both clinical and genomic data, and our user-friendly research interfaces, DNAnexus provides the infrastructure that will make such complex precision medicine initiatives  possible.

Join us, in collaboration with our partner Sutter Health, for a webinar—A Novel Approach to Applying Genomic Patient Data to Improve Multiple Sclerosis Treatments— which is on demand now. Watch today.

DNAnexus will help our partners overcome some of the challenges involved in large-scale data collection, storage, and analysis. One of the most difficult parts of the project, for instance, is clinical data extraction. From demographic details to symptom descriptions and prescription history, there are more than 300 clinical data elements that Sutter will be extracting from its electronic health records.

“It’s not just input of data, but also the export of DNAnexus expertise that will help us do a better job collecting and curating data,” says Gregory Tranah, Ph.D., director of the Center for Precision Medicine at Sutter Health.

“At the end of the day, my job is to bring solutions to our patients, and partnership is the best way to make this happen,” he added. “We’re hoping that DNAnexus can continue to be a matchmaker for us into this larger world of academia, industry, and governmental organizations who want to do large sequencing studies.”