JHTV is celebrating 10 innovations in 10 years.

Over the next several months, we will highlight innovations from the past decade at The Johns Hopkins University to illustrate the depth, breadth and impact of research from the university’s many divisions and disciplines.

First among our 10 innovations is Circulomics, a genomics gamechanger specializing in sequencing sample preparation products that have enabled high-impact genomics projects such as the Human Pangenome Project and Darwin Tree of Life. The company was acquired in 2021 by Pacific Biosciences, a publicly traded company whose “long read” DNA sequencing capabilities allow scientists to read extended portions of DNA.

Kelvin Liu, Ph.D., caught the entrepreneurship bug after completing his undergraduate degree and joining a biotech startup in 2000. It wasn’t long before he decided to create his own startup and begin his 20-year-long innovation journey. In preparation to become a founder, Liu worked at other startups and soon entered a doctoral program in biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

There, he joined the lab of professor Jeff Wang, Ph.D., and focused his graduate work on single molecule analysis of cell-free DNA for cancer diagnostics. This evolved into research on microRNA assays and DNA sizing systems. During Liu’s postdoctoral work in 2012, he wrote Small Business Innovation Research grants to fuel the creation of his spinout, Circulomics.

Established before Johns Hopkins fully developed their entrepreneurial resources, Circulomics helped pave the way for startup success in Baltimore. It was one of the first companies accepted into the nascent FastForward accelerator, which was then located off-campus in the basement of the former Stieff Silver building, before moving to 1812 Ashland Avenue.

Over time, the company migrated to genomics, and in 2018 began launching an expanding portfolio of sequencing sample preparation products for applications such as human whole genome sequencing, plant and animal sequencing, and agri-genomics. In 2021, Circulomics was acquired by Pacific Biosciences (PacBio), and Liu joined as their vice president of technology development. The company continued to develop sample preparation products to drive the adoption of long-read sequencing and methods for targeted sequencing and single cell analysis.

In March 2024, Liu retired from PacBio to pause his career, spend time with his family and explore future endeavors.

Additional Circulomics Milestones:

  • Raised $11 million in nondilutive grants and entirely bootstrapped from initial spinout to commercialization with greater than 120% compound annual growth rate in revenue growth and eventual acquisition.
  • Developed a novel portfolio of high molecular weight DNA extraction (i.e., Nanobind Big DNA Kits) and size selection kits (i.e., Short Read Eliminator Kits) that became leading products in long-read sequencing. These kits have been used in hundreds of scientific publications including Science and Nature and in projects such as Darwin Tree of Life.
  • Created a method for ultra-long nanopore sequencing (i.e., (greater than 4 Mb) that were key part of high-impact projects such as the Human Pangenome Project.

More about Liu and Circulomics:

Take a look at our Celebrating 10 Years of Innovations page and check back each month as JHTV continues to highlight the past decade of successes.