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Research Highlights

A Fruitful Combination: Private Funding, Public Know-How

  • March 24, 2008
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[Professor Jeong-Sun Seo's Research Team]

Professor Jeong-Sun Seo and his team have been on the front lines of genomic research with their biotech startup Macrogen, launched out of Seoul National University's laboratories in 1997. This joint private-public venture fuses entrepreneurial ambition to academic know-how: Dr. Seo and his colleagues have made their mark through their work in DNA microarrays, gene targeting technology, whole genome sequencing and the Korean Genome Project. Already, Macrogen leads the field in whole genome sequencing and assembly - every morning samples arrive from over 60 countries worldwide, while Macrogen's"knock-out" mice, mice that have been engineered to lack a specific gene, are requested by top scientists for experimental studies.

Macrogen's applied biotech advancements have made essential research possible in labs across the world. Said Professor. Seo,"Recently we participated in a joint research project led by Professor Kono at Tokyo University. While their research in parthenogenic mice was leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else, Professor Kono's team lacked a way of verifying their results that would satisfy the journal Nature's stringent requirements. Our microarray chip was the solution. Finally we could publish a monumental paper on the parthenogenesis in Nature."

How did Professor Seo and the rest of the Macrogen crew come to occupy such an important niche in the global scientific ecosystem? He explains that back in 1997, when the venture was just in its infancy, a representative of Celera Genomics on a visit to Asia triggered a key realization."I learned that the age of the public sector is fading away and the age of the private sector is coming. That is, medical services should focus on user's demand." But university facilities are not equipped to handle such quick turnaround in genome sequencing and it became evident that a private company would be more flexible and responsive to market demands. Taking advantage of new regulations under Korean law that permitted joint public-private efforts, Professor Seo and his colleagues merged the best of both worlds to create their new brainchild.

Says Professor. Seo,"Bio-digital convergence is a phenomenon we are experiencing right now. After the IT revolution paved the road, the bio tech revolution is putting the content that will travel along those pathways." As a professor of medicine, Professor Seo envisions a future where medical services can be truly personalized thanks to such technological advancements. Macrogen is laying the infrastructure for this future. He confidently predicts,"Around 2012, personal genome sequencing will cost only 1,000 USD. Our goal is to occupy 40% of that market and to be the major player in this field in the world."

To help support young researchers who also hope to make a major impact not just in the academic world but in the industry as well, Professor Seo suggests that Seoul National University provide more flexibility in its research support. He also urges,"Motivation of science should change from pure interest into making a contribution to humanity. Science should make a difference in the real world, not just on paper."

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