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After Naming HCS Veteran Chairman, Software Startup Optra Hopes to Grow Customer Base

Nascent software company Optra Systems hopes to grow its base of high-content screening customers and last week appointed as chairman of its advisory board a veteran cell-based assay official to help it meet that goal.
Optra Systems, based in Pune, India, named to the post Dan Calvo, former CEO of Cellomics and current president and CEO of Assay Designs, a supplier of immunoassay kits (see CBA News, 5/25/07).
One month earlier, the company appointed to the board Joe Keegan, CEO of Molecular Devices and a former Becton Dickinson official.
Optra, which stands for optical recognition and algorithm, develops imaging algorithms and applications that process signals and extract data from HCS platforms. Its software is used by medical R&D companies, including those in the HCS market, according to president and CEO Abhi Gholap.
Typically, HCS applications integrate instrumentation and optics with reagents, cell lines, and image-analysis software. According to Calvo, including into that mix a flexible algorithm capability with a robust informatics database, such as the one marketed by Optra, could enable HCS companies to collaborate by integrating different HCS databases.  
Potential Optra customers would include those that make HCS systems, such as Thermo Fisher Scientific, GE Healthcare, MDS Analytic Technologies, and PerkinElmer, and end-users in the pharma, biotech, academic, government, and CRO settings, said Calvo.
Calvo told CBA News this week that Optra’s business model will continue to evolve because it is such a young company. “Right now, our goal is to take the core expertise that we have in image analysis and algorithm development and apply it across different areas of the life sciences, including HCS.”
Optra will work with customers to custom-develop software for their business, said Calvo. But it can also take a broader role, in terms of concept-to-completion, or it can be an outsourcing arm for part of the work.
Calvo said that the company can be flexible in terms of how it works with its customers and tailors how it works with customers to their specific needs.
Building the Team
Optra currently employs 32 people, including software developers, engineers, algorithm scientists, and life scientists, Gholap said. He said the company would like to have 75 employees by the end of the year, most of them based in India, while others would be at Optra’s Boston office.
The company also plans to expand to Europe, probably the UK, and to the West coast of the US, Gholap added.
Besides Calvo and Keegan, the company has four other advisory board members: IP rights attorney Vishal Kataria; imaging expert CVK Rao; radiologist Rakesh Jamkhandikar; and quality analyst Pradeep Satbhai.
According to Gholap, the company would like to sprinkle finance and IP intelligence into the mix, but does not feel constrained by any timetable.

Optra, which stands for optical recognition and algorithm, has developed software that could enable HCS companies to collaborate by integrating different HCS databases.

He said a typical customer case develops from an initial discussion in Optra’s Pune headquarters about licensing requirements and customer needs, and then the requirements are sent to researchers who build the software. The work then goes back to the customer for initial trials and testing.
Eyeing the Future
Optra is currently a self-funded company, said Gholap. However, it plans to seek additional funding when it begins looking to expand, he said, although it has enough cash to sustain it until the end of next year.
Gholap said Optra’s technology is still in the pilot phase with many of its customers, particularly those in the HCS arena. He said that transactions with HCS customers will be structured more like partnerships.
The company wants to establish several of its current customers as long-term clients by the end of this quarter, and at least one of these should be in the HCS arena, said Gholap. He did not name existing customers.
Over the next two to three years, the company will continue to focus on software, and it will stick to its core expertise, but will expand its customer base by either working directly with them or through partnerships in the proteomics, HCS, and biomedical/healthcare fields, Calvo said.
Another area that Optra plans to focus on is integrating HCS data with cheminformatics databases, said Calvo. The company does not want to stray too far from image analysis, however.

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