With his new position as head of bioinformatics at Solexa, you might say Clive Brown is a glutton for punishment. After some 10 years doing bioinformatics work at small companies, public-sector institutes, and big pharma, Brown will handle the computational needs for the UK-based sequencing firm, which, at full throttle, expects to generate “slightly more information per machine per run than the current human genome,” he says.
Brown, 34, comes to Solexa after three years at Oxford GlycoSciences, where he helped design and assemble the proteomics atlas based on the entire human genome. Previously, he worked at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics on genotyping databases; was the informatics team leader for RNA microarrays and other systems at GlaxoWellcome; and first learned to work with microarray and proteomics data in the mid-’90s at the Sanger Centre.
The range of work and alternating size of companies was intentional, says Brown, a northern England native. “I deliberately tried to have a breadth of experience. I wanted to go from DNA to RNA to proteins,” he says. And while he prefers the feel of a small company, he says working at a large pharmaceutical company was so valuable he’d recommend it to anybody.
The move to Solexa came as Brown heard more and more about it. “There was a bit of a vibe about this company even a couple of years ago,” he remembers, thinking of the roughly 50-person team as a “gazump” — an outside group rushing in to win the race.
Right now, Brown’s task is to prepare the company for an expected ramp-up in the next two years. Solexa currently runs on Linux clusters, but Brown’s group will evaluate other hardware and software in the coming months; having custom-designed compute chips is even a possibility, he says. A key focus will be the software to collect and manipulate the data: “every small improvement in algorithms potentially saves tens of thousands of dollars,” he adds.
It certainly won’t be a breeze, Brown admits. “When I came in for an interview, in fact, we went through all the challenges and the guy said, ‘How do you feel about this? It’s quite daunting.’ I said, ‘Well, it is daunting. I’ll probably lose some sleep over this.’ [He] said, ‘Well, that’s reassuring because you should lose sleep over this.’”
— Meredith Salisbury