An interview with Steve Gardner of GenoKey: Part one

April 12, 2013 − by Suzanne Elvidge − in GenoKey people − No Comments

In part one of a Q&A, I talk to Dr Steve Gardner, who is involved in product management at GenoKey, about how he got involved in GenoKey, and get some background on the technology. In next week’s Q&A, we will talk more about the applications of GenoKey’s software in the health and life sciences, and the exciting potential of this superfast data mining and data analytics technology.

Q. How did you get involved with GenoKey?
A. I’ve worked in big data for more than 20 years, and I originally met Gert [Dr Gert L Møller, CTO and co-founder, GenoKey] through LinkedIn, when we were discussing the potential of GenoKey’s technology in life sciences. We realised that there was a lot of overlap between my work and Gert’s, and a lot of potential for innovation in the interface between maths, computing and biomedicine. I was particularly impressed that GenoKey’s technology is tried and tested, having been used for around 15 years in safety-critical markets, and it became obvious very quickly that we both saw several exciting applications in life sciences and healthcare.

Q. Where does GenoKey’s technology come from?
A. GenoKey was a spinout from Array Technology, a company co-founded by Gert. Array Technology had proven array-based tools in safety critical areas such as the nuclear industry, and in timetable and safety planning for the railroads. While planning a timetable doesn’t sound very difficult, it’s actually a very complicated process that requires understanding all the routes, rolling stock, points, stations, signals and passenger and freight journeys. This is a massive combinatorial problem with lots of interdependent moving parts. All the right trains must be able to stop at the right stations at the right times, and the points mustn’t be set the wrong way when there’s a train coming. It’s vital not only to find the most efficient solutions to moving everything to where it needs to be, but also to be able to understand the potential knock-on impacts across the entire system of inevitable delays and disruptions. At the very least, you need to be able to prove that there is no possibility that two trains might end up on the same piece of track at the same time!

Q. How can a piece of software created for train timetables work in healthcare?
A. Like train movements and timings across a network of rails and stations, clinical data has many interlocking and interdependent factors. It is also complex and messy, with outcomes influenced by many things, from genetics to age and lifestyle, some of which we understand and some of which we don’t. In many diseases there are multiple genetic and clinical factors that combine together to determine a patient’s individual risk of getting a disease or responding to a particular therapy. GenoKey’s software was designed to deal efficiently with exactly this kind of complex mix of data. It is robust and fast enough to provide better answers that the existing methods simply don’t have the power to reach. A good example is genome wide association studies, where GenoKey can identify larger and more significant sets of SNPs that, in combination, differentiate patients with a disease from a control population. These can be used either as research tools to discover novel therapeutic targets or as diagnostic tools in their own right.

Q. What kind of data can the GenoKey technology deal with?
Pretty much anything – GenoKey’s software can handle combinations of any finite series of data (numbers or categories), and create correlations across a number of different series. In healthcare, these could include people’s genotype, phenotype, clinical tests, co-morbidities, treatment history and/or outcomes.

As well as working on product management for GenoKey, Steve Gardner is a partner at Biolauncher, which provides services to help launch and grow life sciences. He has founded and served as CEO and CTO of a number of life science and healthcare informatics businesses, including Synomics and Viaken Systems. Prior to that, Steve was Worldwide Director of Research Informatics for Astra.

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