Informatics firm Teranode is hoping to cash in on the high-content cell-based screening market by adding a specific module for HCS to its flagship laboratory workflow management software, and hopes to have a product on the market by the end of this year, Teranode told CBA News this week.
Currently, Teranode has a "couple of projects" going on with undisclosed collaborators who are helping to refine the product, but the company is actively seeking additional partners to "help formulate the requirements" and prepare the product for market, Corey Samuels, solutions manager for Teranode, told CBA News this week.
Teranode was spun out of the computer science and engineering department and the Cell Systems Initiative laboratory of the bioengineering department at the University of Washington in 2003. Its flagship product is the Teranode Design Suite, a software package intended to manage and automate workflow in high-throughput biology labs.
According to Samuels, most of Teranode's customers have thus far been in the high-throughput biochemical screening area, but as HCS has slowly taken hold both in pharmaceutical and academic drug discovery, the company realized it needed to address this emerging market.
"We're seeing both new customers coming to us looking for solutions for HCS, and current customers who have implemented [our product] for HTS, and now are saying, 'We just got a Cellomics instrument,' and we're interested in expanding our solution to that area, too,'" Samuels said.
"At its simplest, the workflow is really not very different [from HTS]."
All HCS vendors offer some sort of image-analysis software to analyze the data coming from the automated microscope, and many offer back-end informatics, data mining, and data storage products, as well.
However, no one currently offers a way to manage multiple HCS experiments from soup to nuts, and to integrate the massive amount of data generated by imaging screens with other experimental methods such as HTS or proteomics studies.
"Our product captures data throughout an entire assay run — from designing a plate layout, and which compounds you're testing, to the actual screening data," Samuels said. "A lot of our customers will have a separate stats tool, and then their instrument database, and then they do their dose-response curves in Excel, and we give them a way to look at the dose response curve and then drill back and know the history of the compound and where it came from, or where the cell image is stored and things like that."
Furthermore, Samuels said, "you can integrate your HCS work across your entire enterprise and link it to what's going on in other labs."
Although Teranode declined to identify any of the partners it is working with to develop the HCS module, one known partner is the laboratory of Jim Inglese at the National Institutes Chemical Genomics Center.
Last year, Inglese told CBA News that his lab, which is heavily involved in HCS, had invested in Teranode Design Suite to capture assay protocol development information and manage the HCS workflow in the lab.
"[TDS] operates off a model-based paradigm allowing all of our assay optimization data to be stored in a database and retrieved, analyzed, and used for subsequent optimization designs," Inglese said at the time. "In my previous environments this data went primarily into lab notebooks or Excel files scattered about a common hard drive with no useful way to mine or search. This is something that I do not want to repeat at the NCGC." (See CBA News, 2/22/2005).
This week, Inglese declined to comment on NCGC's involvement in the development of TDS for HCS experiments, stating only that it has "set very ambitious goals with Teranode, [which] we continue to work with."
Teranode hasn't had to alter the basic structure of TDS very much from the product that is used for HTS, but there are still non-trivial challenges that HCS brings to the table that need to be addressed.
"At its simplest, the workflow is really not very different from [HTS]," Samuels said. "You design an assay, run the assay, and integrate with an instrument; and then there's analysis and reporting," Samuels said. "So the workflow steps are very similar, and some of the analyses like dose response, effective curve fits, and things like that are pretty similar.
"The individual instruments obviously are different, and some of the challenges are with dealing with image data, and the large data sets that would come from cell-based assays," she added. "Then there's also integration with external statistical tools, because I think more HCS labs use these types of tools. For instance, we've talked with people who have used [Insightful's] S-Plus, so we have to be able to integrate with those types of things."
The fact that TDS would have to be compatible with various HCS instrumentation platforms indicates that it would behoove Teranode to explore partnerships with various vendors to achieve that end. Indeed, the company is "certainly interested in this, but we're not there yet," Samuels said.
"We don't have anything actively happening on that front, and right now, in a lot of our early instrument integrations, we often will take the output that comes from the instrument and directly pull it in, so we're not changing the data or anything," she added.
Teranode has several competitors in the laboratory workflow management space, such as Inforsense and Accelrys subsidiary SciTegic, and Samuels was unsure whether these companies are also addressing HCS workflow management.
"I can't say that there is no one else, but that I know of, most of the people are using the software from the instrument vendors," she said. "People seem to be putting together their own in-house combinations, and are now having to look for a more integrated solution to manage their whole process."
Teranode will continue to work with its current collaborators to refine TDS for the HCS market, and in the meantime is actively courting potential customers, as well as new collaborators and eventual beta-testers.
"I think by the end of the year we'd expect to have a set of templates and integration we can offer as an HCS solutions package," Samuels said.
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])