GE Healthcare, which last week announced it had integrated Spotfire's DecisionSite data-visualization software with its IN Cell Analyzer high-content analysis platform, this week said that the assimilation is part of a brand new software package designed to make it easier for biologists to use the IN Cell and make decisions based on IN Cell-generated data.
The new software, called IN Cell Investigator 1.0, builds upon the Analyzer's original Developer Toolbox image-analysis package. But with Spotfire's DecisionSite on board, GE Healthcare hopes the software will give its high-content screening business an advantage over rivals, particularly Fisher Biosciences unit Cellomics, which does not have an OEM-type deal with Spotfire despite the fact that its HCS customers frequently use DecisionSite independently.
For Spotfire, the deal represents the first fruits of a relatively new partnership strategy that could help it win additional customers in the burgeoning HCS market and also in the overall life sciences tools market [see sidebar].
Ger Brophy, general manager of discovery sciences for GE Healthcare, told CBA News this week that the IN Cell Investigator 1.0 is currently in beta testing, and that its release is imminent.
"In a way, we've come out with this news as it happened," Brophy said. "The interaction with Spotfire was announced [last week], and that's real, but for us it will really be real when we roll it out in the entire Investigator package."
GE Healthcare and Spotfire disclosed the alliance last week but provided few details (see CBA News, 6/30/2006). This week they further explained the nature of that partnership.
"Spotfire is the gold standard in this space for data visualization, and we've pulled that in and tightly integrated [DecisionSite] into our Investigator launch," Brophy said. "So there is no work required from the customer to make Spotfire's software work with the IN Cell Analyzer and the Investigator module."
To do this, GE Healthcare has essentially purchased a license for DecisionSite from Spotfire for an undisclosed amount, and will pass the rights to use the software onto its IN Cell customers. A version of DecisionSite will be available from now on in the Investigator software suite.
Christian Marcazzo, Spotfire's senior director of life sciences marketing, told CBA News that GE Healthcare is now akin to an "OEM reseller" of DecisionSite. "Mutual customers get workflows — or what we call guides — in our software," he said. "These are guides that GE has built to get them up and going faster. So even if they already have a Spotfire license, these guides will help them."
A major benefit of what GE Healthcare terms "seamless integration" with DecisionSite is that there is now "two-way data transfer" between DecisionSite and the IN Cell Analyzer, whereas before there might have been only one-way transfer from IN Cell to DecisionSite.
This enables customers "to move back and forth, to take data from IN Cell to Spotfire, and take out cells that they want," Brophy said. "We've been able to acknowledge that our data-analysis packages turn out data in quite a few different formats, like IC50s and other calculated formats. So once customers see a combination of variables [in DecisionSite] that define a compound of interest, they can track that right back in, and re-examine that image on IN Cell to ensure that, for example, a cell looks OK, or that the combination of variables that's given that profile on Spotfire is actually related to a real recognizable image."
The second major component to the new Investigator suite, GE Healthcare said, is an improved method for customizing image-analysis algorithms to individual research needs.
"We've just gone the extra mile, we feel, and done the tighter integration to allow both elements — Investigator and Spotfire — to be commercialized and accessed by the customer in a single format."
According to Brophy, the old IN Cell Analyzer image-analysis software, the Developer Toolbox, has always featured "pre-canned" image-analysis algorithms for specific HCS applications such as mitotic index, nuclear translocation, neurite outgrowth, cell cycle, micronucleus formation, et cetera.
Developer Toolbox also allowed customers with more programming experience to write their own image-analysis routines, Brophy said.
But the Investigator software "also has what we call context modules, which are loosely based around a particular application, but allow customers to control the variables," he added. "This allows users to configure the algorithms to make sense of data from the biology that they've seen. That's the kind of flexibility our customers told us that they wanted.
"The real difference here is that we now feel that biologists can generate image-analysis algorithms on Investigator and IN Cell without having to be an image-analysis expert, or a code writer," Brophy added.
GE Healthcare hopes to retrofit existing IN Cell platforms with the new version of Investigator.
"That's one of the great advantages of software upgrades — we can go out to our customers now and see exactly what they want," Brophy said. "We think that the package that we've now got will result in a high uptake of retrofitting the software to the IN Cell platform.
The GE Healthcare deal is not the first time that Spotfire's DecisionSite has been used to visualize data from high-content imaging systems. In fact, many scientists using Cellomics' HCS platforms have also used DecisionSite to visualize data, and in 2003, Cellomics and Spotfire announced a development agreement.
"I'd say more of our customers today are using our software to analyze Cellomics data than IN Cell data," Marcazzo told CBA News this week. "We and Cellomics together and independently have done a number of one-off integrations for individual customers.
"We've had some discussions with Cellomics to achieve a tighter integration, but we haven't completed a deal like the one we now have with GE Healthcare," he added. "We think our software is really well-suited to HCS technology, because it's open to many different kinds of data and workflows."
According to GE's Brophy, Cellomics is also "able to push some of their data out on the Spotfire system … but we've just gone the extra mile, we feel, and done the tighter integration to allow both elements — Investigator and Spotfire — to be commercialized and accessed by the customer in a single format."
Cellomics did not return calls seeking comment in time for this publication.
GE Healthcare also has its own collaboration with Cellomics, forged in 2004, that allows customers to use Cellomics' informatics and CellomicsStore data-mining software with an IN Cell Analyzer instrument (see CBA News, 7/6/2004). Brophy termed this as "another piece of the puzzle. The CellomicsStore is very much focused on data mining; our Investigator is very much focused on data analysis, and Spotfire is focused on data visualization.
"It's a fairly predictable route that we're taking — making sure that all the elements required for HCS are in the hands of the customers — so not only the image analysis and the generation of IC50 [curves], but now the ability to use a gold standard to visualize that and make choices, and then circle right back without any barriers to get at the root data that support that visualization."