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Alitora Taps Gladstone's Bioinformatics 'Know-How' to Boost Search and Collaboration Apps

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By Ben Butkus

This article has been changed from a previous version to clarify the Gladstone Institute's iPSC IP and licensing activity.

The J. David Gladstone Institutes said last week that it will work with Alitora Systems to further develop Alitora's biotech and pharmaceutical organization collaboration software to improve its application in drug discovery and development.

The collaboration stems from a tight-knit relationship between Gladstone and Alitora, which will tap into the institute's "huge amount of bioinformatics insight and know-how" to enhance the use of its collaborative software with a trio of popular open-source bioinformatics programs, according to a company executive.

And although the partnership has no financial component at this time, according to institute officials, it will also serve to bolster Alitora's ranks, as one of the collaborating Gladstone investigators, Alex Pico, will become chief scientific officer at the company; while another, Bruce Conklin, will join its advisory board.

Alitora, based in Menlo Park, Calif., and Brooklyn, NY, will work primarily with Pico, a bioinformatics software engineer at the institute, and Conklin, a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, to bolster its Alitora Innovation Network collaboration and search software.

"This stemmed out of some personal relationships [Alitora] had with [Pico], who initially brought to my attention the benefits of a relationship between Alitora and Gladstone," Peter Berger, Alitora's CEO, told BTW this week.

Berger said that he personally knew Pico because of his work on CytoScape, an open source bioinformatics software platform for visualizing molecular interaction networks, for which Alitora has developed an interface to its text mining software.

"We had developed an application on CytoScape and … [Pico] suggested to us that it would be very interesting if we could do something together here," Berger said. "I said, 'Let's explore it,' and basically this collaboration stemmed from that."

CytoScape is one open-source software platform on which Alitora and Gladstone will collaborate. Another is GenMAPP, a free software application designed to visualize gene expression and other genomic data on maps representing biological pathways and groupings of genes, on which Conklin is group leader.

And lastly, Gladstone will help Alitora further interface its software with that of WikiPathways, an open source web portal for curating biological pathways, to which both GenMAPP and BiGCaT, a bioinformatics group at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, have contributed pathways.

"There is a huge amount of insight and know-how that Gladstone obviously has," Berger said. "On a purely technical level, this will involve the growth and enhancement of our applications through CytoScape; the growth and enhancement of our work with WikiPathways software in association with BiGCaT; and the evolution of the GenMAPP software applications."

Berger added that the projects all involve "visual enhancements to [Alitora's] current applications."

Alitora's collaboration and search software integrates research, literature, patent, and other data for pharmaceutical and biotech companies, enabling them to search, collaborate on, and integrate web applications.

The company said that its product is unlike traditional search programs in that it finds information based on relevant meaning, not just keywords. This can reveal new information from previously published work and contribute to progress in current research studies, the company said.

"Throw-away data in one area of research may be a critical factor in another," Conklin said in a statement. "These tools can be used to find intersections in science that can significantly improve the pace of discovery."

The non-profit Gladstone, based in San Francisco, has developed and licensed IP covering a wide range of disease areas and technologies, according to a spokesperson. In 2008, BTW reported that Gladstone licensed certain patents related to the use of iPSCs in cardiovascular disease to startup biotech iZumi (now iPierian).

But IP in the bioinformatics field generally holds nowhere near as much potential for financial return as technologies like iSPCs.

A Gladstone spokesperson told BTW that it was too early to tell if the institute's collaboration with Alitora would result in new software that could be considered licensable intellectual property, and that the relationship did not have a financial aspect at this time.

It is unclear whether Gladstone has previously collaborated with companies in the area of bioinformatics, or whether it is a significant source of licensing revenue for the institute.

Berger said that the company has signed a contract with Gladstone regarding their collaboration, but deferred to the institutes for any financial details. "We're collaborating on a technical level, and it's an ongoing discussion," he said.

However, he did acknowledge that it was a possibility that the partnership could result in new software or new IP.

"When you put a lot of good minds in a room, amazing things can happen," Berger said.

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