August 23, 2012

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

New Huntsville Biotech Company Offers Next-generation Research

August 23, 2012
Transomic Technologies
Gwen Fewell, Rusla du Breuil, and Blake Simmons, co-founders, stand together in their lab during an interview at the Transomic Technologies labs at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology Thursday, August 16, 2012 in Huntsville, Ala. (The Huntsville Times/Eric Schultz)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Huntsville's HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has launched a biotech company to serve the booming market in genetic research. Transomic Technologies is the 22nd company housed, started or incubated at HudsonAlpha since the institute opened in Huntsville in 2007.

Like most of the others, it has its roots in breakthroughs in gene knowledge and the ongoing search for more breakthroughs.

Transomic sells next-generation genetic tools to researchers studying basic biology - how things work when they work correctly - and the biology of disease. Since there are an estimated 40,000 researchers now doing this work worldwide, Transomic chief commercial officer Dr. Gwen Fewell said last week, the company's business model looks good.

"We sell our customers products that help them understand what genes do by affecting the functionality of the gene, by either ... making the gene stop doing what it normally does, or making the gene do more of what it normally does," CEO Blake Simmons said.

Specifically, Transomic has partnered with New York's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to commercialize a new generation of RNA molecules. The next-generation RNA was discovered at Cold Spring Harbor.

RNA interference with genes - also called RNAi - was first discovered in 1998 as a natural way that organisms stop genes from activity, probably as a way to protect against RNA-born viruses. Researchers quickly realized it could be used to probe the link between genes and other disease.

The new-generation RNA allows researchers to target specific genes for experimentation, and Transomic also offers synthetic genes for the experiments themselves.

Researchers are most excited about the ability of RNAi to stop gene activity - or "knock down" the gene, in research parlance. Cancer, for example, is caused by runaway cells created by runaway gene expression.

"When you (stop) a gene that's causing cancer, can you stop the cancer?" Fewell asked rhetorically. "Or in a cancer cell, if you look at normal representations of genes and you try to compare normal with diseased, you can see differences in gene expression that might give you insights into what that gene does."

Transomic's website,, went live this month, and orders began arriving within days. New sales efforts are under way to explain the new generation of RNA and what Fewell called "superior processing within the cell." "We expect these tools will be superior to the existing market leading products today," Fewell said.

The third member of Transomic's leadership team is chief technology officer Dr. Rusla Du Breuil. She explained the basic idea behind the ability to target specific genes for manipulation. "It's sequence alignment," Du Breuil said. "If the molecule you design is very similar in construction to its target, it will bind."

The new company, which is still open to investment, will also be an archive site for gene collections for the National Institutes of Health.

Simmons, Fewell and Du Breuil were coworkers at Open Biosystems, another locally grown biotech company, and Du Breuil and Simmons also worked together at Research Genetics. That breakthrough Huntsville biotech company was founded by HudsonAlpha founder Jim Hudson.

Hudson is on Transomic's board and Troy Moore, a founder of Open Biosystems, is chairman of the new company's board of directors. "HudsonAlpha is a terrific place for us to be," Simmons said. "There are so many people we can reach out to collaborate with."

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