Genuity says Irish DNA database will still be managed locally after sale

State’s Isif fund says value of its stake has been impacted by pandemic and other factors

Genuity Science, which is leading a controversial programme to gather the DNA of one tenth of the Irish population for private research, has been acquired in an all-stock deal that involves the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (Isif) remaining as a shareholder.

The State agency declined to comment on the details of the transaction but acknowledged that its €66 million investment in Genuity Science has been impacted by the pandemic and other issues.

The Boston-based company and its Irish and Icelandic subsidiaries have been bought by HiberCell, a New York-headquartered group developing therapeutics for preventing cancer relapse and metastasis.

In a statement, Genuity Science Ireland said it would continue to operate it genomics laboratory and database infrastructure at its Irish facility.


“There will be no change to Genuity Science (Ireland) Limited’s continued controllership of its genomic research databases,” the company added.

Genuity was until recently known as WuXi NextCode, with Chinese backing. It bought Dublin-founded Genomics Medicines Ireland in 2015 in a $400 million investment that also included participation from Isif. The Irish unit was subsequently renamed Genuity Science Ireland.

In a statement provided to The Irish Times, Isif said it is now a shareholder in HiberCell following the transaction.

“Genuity Science has faced significant challenges in the last few years. Rising trade tensions between China and the US forced the separation of the Chinese operations, and the Covid-19 pandemic prevented Genuity Science from conducting its business activities,” an Isif spokesman said.

“This acquisition represents the best opportunity to maximise value for the company in the future and to maintain its Irish operation.”


The spokesman said Isif had invested €66 million in Genuity Science to date, comprising a €5 million investment into Genomics Medicine Ireland in October 2016, which was later acquired by Wuxi NextCode, and a €61 million investment into Wuxi NextCode in November 2018.

Wuxi NextCode was later renamed Genuity Science. All investments were made on “commercial terms”, Isif said.

While declining to comment on the specific details of this latest transaction, Isif acknowledged that the value of its investment has taken a hit.

“We do not disclose the value of private investments as this information is commercially sensitive. However, the company’s valuation has been negatively impacted by the global pandemic and its exposure to geopolitical events.”

Genuity is involved in a 15-year partnership with multinational pharma group Abbvie to map the genomes of Irish people in an effort to develop new drugs and to find cures for disease.

The Data Protection Commission (DPC) launched a "widespread compliance and supervision" examination of Genuity and its clinical partners in 2018, following complaints about how it gathered and processed DNA data from some of the State's largest hospitals. In June, a spokesman for the DPC said consultations with Genuity on the issue were ongoing.

Under the deal, HiberCell has acquired Genuity’s human genome analytics technology and computational platform, along with high-quality genomic, multiomic and deeply characterised phenotype datasets in cancer as well as cardiometabolic, autoimmune, and neurological disorders.

The acquisition also provides HiberCell with about $100 million in cash, as well as existing partnership agreements with Ionis and AbbVie. It is expected that future earnouts of these partnerships will support HiberCell’s growth, it said.

AI platform

"We believe pairing HiberCell's success in advancing differentiated oncology medicines into the clinic with Genuity's advanced technologies in genomic research and one-of-a-kind artificial intelligence and machine-learning platform will break new ground for what is possible in cancer drug discovery," said Hannes Smarason, chief executive of Genuity Science.

Revenues more than doubled at the DNA collection company’s Irish unit in the year before the coronavirus pandemic, recently-filed accounts show. It reported turnover of $25.7 million in 2019, up from $11.6 million a year earlier.

The Irish unit returned to profit during 2019, rebounding from a €42.8 million pretax loss to a €25 million gain. However, this was largely due to a release of finance costs totalling $39.9 million related to the conversion of ordinary shares to Series A ones. Removing the impact of this led to a $14.8 million loss.

"Genuity's hybrid artificial-intelligence [AI] and machine-learning [ML] platform, which has successfully identified and validated novel molecular pathways in disease initiation and progression, is well positioned to further our understanding of the stress phenotype and its role in cancer progression," said HiberCell chief executive Alan Rigby.

“The integration of Genuity’s AI/ML tools uniquely positions HiberCell at the forefront of computational technology and drug development. We believe this acquisition jump-starts a deeper mechanistic understanding of the relationship between the adaptive stress phenotype and cancer, while simultaneously allowing us to identify novel precision oncology targets,” he added.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist