As a student in the School of Medicine’s M.D./Ph.D. Program a decade ago, Gualberto Ruaño, Ph.D. ’92, M.D. ’97, expected to pursue an academic research career. Working with Kenneth K. Kidd, Ph.D., a professor of genetics and psychiatry, he discovered and patented a means of coupling the amplification of genetic materials with sequencing that has since proved valuable for biotechnology research and clinical medicine. “I got into the applied end of the research spectrum early, and I just went on from there,” he says. As chief executive officer of Genaissance Pharmaceuticals, a New Haven-based biotechnology firm, he licensed that same technology as part of his company’s strategy to develop new means of separating out genetic differences in the benefits and possible dangers people face in taking medications.
Ruaño’s goal is to create new medicines that are custom-tailored for individual patients based on their genetic profiles. Like many biotechnology companies, Genaissance is as much an information company as it is a laboratory-based discovery engine. In renovated, former industrial loft space in New Haven’s Science Park, some 50 software developers work alongside 50 more genetics researchers generating health care algorithms that will be used to analyze individual genomes and clinical data to come up with optimal treatment regimens. Ruaño hopes to create the “operating system” for health care of the future. He says, “We foresee knowledge of each individual’s unique genome being used to predict disease susceptibility and progression as well as each individual’s response to a drug. Ultimately, our technology may allow physicians and patients to select specific treatments based on a patient’s genome.”
Genaissance combines analysis of genetic variation within diverse groups of people—largely drawn from ethnic and geographic population samples—with clinical data plotting individuals’ responses to medications. The technique allows the company to generate increasingly specific databases of genetic markers that will eventually prove useful in the development, marketing and prescribing of drugs. The Genaissance name, he says, “reflects the concept of moving from medieval flatness in imagery to the increasing awareness of depth, shape, color and individuality that took place in the Renaissance. We’re doing the same in genomics by developing an increasingly multi-dimensional understanding of disease and drug interaction.”
In a sense, Genaissance is a direct outgrowth of Ruaño’s time at Yale. Working with Frank H. Ruddle, Ph.D., Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, who now heads Genaissance’s scientific advisory board and whose technology the company has also licensed, Ruaño launched the company in April 1997. Genaissance has grown rapidly and began selling its stock to the public in August.
“Yale was a magnificent opportunity for me,” Ruaño says. “One of the things that makes Yale special is exposure to leaders in different fields. I was able to capitalize on that experience. A lot of people I interacted with at Yale are now members of my company in some capacity.”