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Old-fashioned Company Backs into Bioinformatics

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Few people have ever heard of Prevas Bioinformatics, and that doesn’t really bother CEO Jonas Wiström. Although public, his company is traded on the Stockholm exchange, not Wall Street. And while the company’s website lists 10 bioinformatics customers, Prevas concentrates on Nordic companies. Wiström’s logic: in this precarious market, it’s better to be safe than sorry. “We are a very old-fashioned company in terms of being careful and protecting our profits,” he says.

Indeed, Prevas has been profitable every year since it began in 1985. The company — which also provides IT solutions for the telecom, automotive, and airline industries — began its foray into bioinformatics in 1993 when it was approached by Amersham Pharmacia Biotech to develop software for Amersham’s chromatography line. Although somewhat surprised, Prevas responded, and worked with Amersham to develop a software package called Unicorn. “It’s fair to say that we more or less came into this area by mistake,” Wiström concedes. But the mistake paid off, and in January, 2000, Prevas responded to the growing Swedish biotech market by launching its bioinformatics division.

Under the platform Bioframe, Prevas works with biotechnology companies to develop whatever IT systems they need. If a customer requires an existing product, Prevas will help them buy it; if the company needs a customized system, such as a specialized database, Prevas will supply it and provide follow-up customer support. Although Prevas itself does not sell products, the company is in the process of collecting the solutions it has provided to other companies under a toolbox, letting Prevas reuse previous solutions with future customers, and facilitating the entire process.

Prevas Bioinformatics has expanded dramatically over the past year and a half, from 20 to 100 employees, now one-third of the entire company. In response, the company is planning to make its first step into the international arena in October, when it will open a satellite office in Denmark. Based on Prevas’s experience in Europe, Wiström says the company may consider setting its sights on the US. But don’t expect this anytime soon, says the company that keeps trying to go slowly.

— Alison McCook

 

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