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Iobion Targets Mid-range Microarray Market

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What’s in a name? Two months, an available URL, and a random word generator, says Stephen Sharp, marketing director of the newly formed Iobion (eye-OH-bee-un) Informatics.

Founded by Strategene CEO Joe Sorge and Jason Gonçalves with consulting help from Terry Gaasterland of Rockefeller University, Iobion presents a software product for improved microarray analysis. Though the code was written from scratch, many of the ideas came from Gaasterland’s TANGO program. The software, which has gone through a few generations of names itself and remains unnamed at press time, makes use of open-source programs to keep the price down.

Iobion sprang from CSO Gonçalves and acting CEO Sorge’s idea that there was “a gaping hole in the microarray marketplace,” says Sharp, formerly of MSI, now Accelrys. “People could buy really high-end systems or they could buy systems oriented much more toward visualization rather than statistical analysis. The extremes of the system were covered, but for the biologist at the bench, there was really nothing available.”

Customers buy a server — powerful ones go for about $4,000, Sharp says — and take 15 minutes to install the Iobion package. Users access the software from their own computer through Internet Explorer, which allows them to interact with their data in a relational database behind the institution’s firewall.

The first version of the software works for two-color analysis of microarrays, but future versions will accommodate other kinds of data, Sharp says. The key with Iobion’s product is that even while working with statistical analysis, users can always go back to look at the exact spot under scrutiny. “So before a user is about to explain their next Nobel-prize-winning discovery,” Sharp half-jokes, “they can go back to the chip and make sure it wasn’t a dust spot.”

Development of the software and company plans took about six months — since Iobion is privately funded, there was no time lost courting VC firms. The company is based half in Toronto (with Gonçalves) and half in La Jolla, Calif. (with Sharp and Sorge). Sharp says he’s targeting universities from the get-go because of the low price for the software — and because that’s where most biologists haven’t found the right application for bioinformatics research. The ideal customer? “The biologist who’s trying to deal with millions of data points … in Excel,” Sharp says.

— Meredith Salisbury

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