The biotech giant Amgen will purchase deCODE Genetics, the pioneering Icelandic genetics company, for $415 million, the two companies announced today. deCODE Genetics CEO Kári Stefánsson will remain in place and pledges that the company will continue its high-profile research to make connections between genetic variations and disease.
The sale is the latest turn in the road for deCODE, which Stefánsson founded in 1996 with the intention of creating a DNA database of the whole Icelandic population and mining it for genetic markers linked to common diseases. The company never received legal approval for such a national database. But more than 140,000 volunteers agreed to allow the company to combine their medical and DNA information with Iceland's genealogy database.
deCODE has since churned out papers in top journals on its genetics discoveries. But the company struggled to turn a profit from its diagnostic tests and drug development efforts. Three years ago, deCODE declared bankruptcy, then reemerged after an investment consortium bought some of its assets.
Stefánsson says that as a subsidiary of Amgen, deCODE will now have the financial backing to turn its discoveries into drugs. "It's an incredible opportunity for us," he says. Amgen Executive Vice President for Research and Development Sean Harper says the biotech company, headquartered in Thousand Oaks, California, will also rely on deCODE to validate its own targets and develop diagnostic tests for drugs that work well only for patients with a particular genetic profile. "We believe in this strongly and we want to see our discovery of targets be guided by human genetics," Harper says. However, because of Iceland's data privacy laws and deCODE's agreements with local clinicians, deCODE's database and DNA samples must remain in Iceland.
deCODE's research, such as this recent study in Nature using whole-genome sequencing to find a genetic variant that protects against Alzheimer's disease, will carry on, Stefánsson says. "We will continue to make discoveries and publish them freely," Stefánsson says.