Approximately one year after acquiring informatics shop SciMagix, BioImagene last week introduced its first product release to combine expertise from both companies: an image-analysis and -management software package designed for the high-content screening market.
The product release thrusts BioImagene into a rapidly crowding market for stand-alone image-analysis and/or informatics offerings, which includes HCS stalwart Cellomics, GeneData, Definiens, Vala Sciences, and various open-source academic projects, most notably at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
For the first several years of its existence, users of high-content screening platforms essentially depended on the image-analysis software that came with the instrument. Meanwhile, many platforms, save Cellomics, lacked any sort of informatics capabilities.
However, in the past two years, a number of independent image-analysis and -management software providers have been stepping in to fill the perceived void in an otherwise growing industry. Most have offered either image-analysis software, or informatics packages, but BioImagene believes it will be the first to offer a complete "soup-to-nuts" package that is intended to be compatible with any HCS instrument.
"Our interest is really to make this platform like a cockpit, and principal investigators are like the pilots who can turn the knobs and get end-to-end [capabilities], so they can do their research faster, better, and cheaper."
"This becomes essentially a platform that is all packaged together in a box, with a lot of separate components, but when you package [it] all together and make it plug-and-play, it becomes very compelling for researchers, who are kind of tired of waiting for IT folks to do something for them," Mohan Uttarwar, BioImagene's president and CEO, told CBA News last week.
"Our interest is really to make this platform like a cockpit, and principal investigators are like the pilots who can turn the knobs and get end-to-end [capabilities], so they can do their research faster, better, and cheaper," Uttarwar added.
Prior to the acquisition, which was announced last November (see CBA News, 11/23/2004), BioImagene and SciMagix each offered some component of the aforementioned "complete" package. BioImagene offered a product called Scientific Image Management System (SIMS) and a relatively newer image-analysis program called CellMine.
Meanwhile, BioImagene offered products primarily for image analysis in tissues, for diagnostic applications such as histopathology, immunohistochemistry, and fluorescence in situ hybridization. However, it also offered a product called iHarness, which was a "framework" program of sorts for image analysis.
When BioImagene acquired SciMagix, it saw a good opportunity to bundle all of its offerings together to attack the high-content screening market, and a year later, it has realized its first product offering.
The new product, called CellMine 2.0, is capable of acquiring, archiving, retrieving, analyzing, and mining images for data, Uttarwar said. It is also 21 CFR part 11-compliant for FDA audit purposes.
The full suite of image-analysis and management capabilities is where BioImagene most hopes to differentiate itself from its competitors, Uttarwar said; however, he also believes that the company can eventually make its product compatible with every HCS reader on the market.
"We are fully aware that most instruments have somewhat of a management capacity," Utterwar said. "They also have an analysis capacity. But most of the customers we talked to, while they like the algorithms on the instrument, they'd like to do more. Sometimes the instruments aren't geared up to handle the flexibility the scientists are looking for. They are looking to augment the algorithms that come with the instrument — so it's not a replacement, but a lot more flexibility in the secondary level processing."
SciMagix had already begun to take this initiative just prior to its acquisition by creating an interface for its image-analysis products to GE Healthcare's IN Cell 1000 and 3000 plate readers (see CBA News, 9/28/2004).
And although an official collaboration was never forged, BioImagene's new product retains that capability, Utterwar said. The company is currently in the process of talking with other companies about establishing compatibility, and would like to pursue official partnerships in this area. Utterwar specifically mentioned Evotec Technologies' Opera and CompuCyte's iCyte as shorter-term target instruments.
BioImagene is not alone in this pursuit. German software specialist Definiens in 2003 established a partnership with Evotec for image analysis, and Swiss informatics company GeneData more recently established a strategic partnership with Evotec for HCS data-mining (see CBA News, 9/19/2005).
Cellomics, which has traditionally offered a complete instrument and software package, has recently begun to open up its informatics package to others by designing an interface to the IN Cell instruments (see CBA News, 7/6/2004) and most recently, penning an agreement with Applied Precision (see CBA News, 10/31/2005). Lastly, Vala Sciences has publicly stated a similar goal of making its image-analysis software compatible with most HCS instruments (see CBA News, 2/22/2005).
Of course, it is likely in the best interest of instrument manufacturers to allow compatibility with as many image-analysis and -management products as possible in order to offer their customers maximum flexibility — so there may be room for other software providers.
"There are other people who have been there and are trying to get there before us," Utterwar said. "So that means we have to be over and above the existing value proposition, and that's where we are. We are much better in terms of offering the entire package, and our goal is to partner with several of these manufacturers."
Utterwar also believes CellMine 2.0 is priced competitively, with packages starting as low as $60,000.
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])