Matthew Trunnell washed into bioinformatics quite by accident. Trained as a physicist, Trunnell kicked off his career in oceanography, studying circulation patterns of water. Those studies required large-scale simulations, which lured him into the realm of computing infrastructure, and after a brief stint as a Unix-based consultant, he wound up at Genome Therapeutics. “It was my first exposure to bioinformatics,” he recalls. “I was enthralled with the science and with the problems in the field.”
He rode the wave of bioinformatics, and by the start of 2000 left GTC for Blackstone Technology as the company’s first bioinformatics consultant. He left about a year later when Blackstone refocused on software and not as much on infrastructure or research.
Trunnell and fellow Blackstone veteran Rebecca Hyman launched the Catapult Consortium, a small consulting group for bioinformatics. “We ended up doing less work than I expected with life sciences companies and more than I expected with IT companies,” Trunnell, 37, says. Meantime, he’d been talking with former GTC boss Andrew DePristo, who by that time had joined GeneData and convinced Trunnell to follow suit. Trunnell climbed aboard as head technology officer for the Swiss GeneData’s US subsidiary early this year, and has spent the time since then steering the division’s course to where he sees the future of bioinformatics: research partnerships.
“It’s tough to be a large, growing software company in this space,” Trunnell says, pointing out the five or six dozen software programs available for gene expression analysis as an example of the super-saturated market. “The only way that you can be successful is to get closely involved in the research that’s going on [with] full-fledged research alliances.” He calls Rosetta’s acquisition by Merck a success story — “they were doing research right along with their customers, that lent them the scientific credibility that they needed.” So far, progress has been good for GeneData USA, according to Trunnell. The subsidiary has moved away from doing all software licensing as it had in the past and has begun arranging licensing and consulting deals closer to his objective of cooperative research.
He also contends that size will be a key factor in bioinformatics players’ viability. Big companies have too much trouble supporting themselves, so Trunnell says staying small is a good goal for this market. “I think that we’ll have a small number of customers that we’ll work with very closely.”
— Meredith Salisbury