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ABI Partners with Geospiza in Drive to Make New LIMS Platform the Life Science Back Office

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Applied Biosystems last week announced a co-development and marketing agreement with Geospiza under which the companies will integrate Geospiza’s Finch software suite with ABI’s new LS*LIMS laboratory workflow platform.

The agreement gives Seattle’s Geospiza — a privately held firm with only 27 employees — instant access to ABI’s global sales and marketing team. “We expect the impact to be significant,” Kevin Banks, vice president of business development at Geospiza, told BioInform.

Banks said that the company had not “pinned any numbers” on the sales boost that Geospiza may see as a result of the agreement, but noted that ABI will now distribute Finch as both a standalone application, as well as packaged with LS*LIMS. Through the agreement, Geospiza has “essentially gone from a self-served distribution with a couple of sales people to global distribution within the ABI channel,” Banks said.

But ABI also expects to benefit from the association with its smaller partner. Greg James, ABI’s division manager for informatics services and systems solutions, said that last week’s announcement marks the first step in a broader partnership strategy with Geospiza — as well as other third-party informatics providers — to extend the reach of LS*LIMS across the life science research pipeline.

ABI’s customers are “taking more of a systems-biology approach, where they might be integrating tools and workflows from proteomics, from gene expression, as well as sequencing. So the LS*LIMS product was really built to serve as the backbone of that environment,” he said.

But in order to convince researchers that its LIMS can serve as the equivalent of the “back office” for research labs, as James described it, ABI must ensure that the system can not only capture data from a range of instrumentation platforms, but is also tightly integrated with front-end analytical applications like Finch.

LS*LIMS captures data from a range of ABI instruments, including the company’s 3700 and 3730 sequencers, its Prism sequence detection system, and its GeneAmp PCR system. In addition, the software includes ready-made “workflow” modules to support the company’s TaqMan SNP-genotyping and gene-expression assays and its SNPlex genotyping system.

But this level of compatibility is not quite enough, James noted. “Applied Biosystems has been in the LIMS business for a long time,” he said. “But what we haven’t done historically is focus on the analysis piece, and that’s really the stuff that scientists are interested in.”

James said that LIMS have traditionally fallen under the purview of lab managers or compliance managers who need to document operating procedures or track reagent usage. On the other hand, scientists “are not as interested in that. They want the discovery; they want to [see] the biologically relevant results,” he said.

By integrating LS*LIMS more tightly with Finch, he said, researchers will be able to use the same interface to track samples and reagents or run their DNA sequence analysis. This ability to efficiently monitor the experimental process from the earliest stages of the experimental design through to the latest stages of data analysis is of growing importance in labs that are under regulatory pressure, he said. “It’s not sufficient just to generate a result. You need to be able to say where did this result come from, how did you derive it, and collect sufficient information so that you can repeat this process.”

Ken Paynter, operations manager at SeqWright, a sequencing services provider that is prototyping the LS*LIMS/Finch system, said that the integrated product is likely to appeal to pharmaceutical firms that must meet the US Food and Drug Administration’s CFR Part 11 guidelines governing electronic signatures. Under Part 11, Paynter said, “You have to have a level of accountability; you have to be able to show proof of your results; you have to show every hand that ever touched this sample or this data; you have to show everywhere it went from three years back to prove that your results are legitimate.” LS*LIMS “adds another layer of confidence there,” he said.

However, Paynter noted, academic research labs that are “not bound by regulatory requirements” may not find the system as appealing as pharmaceutical firms.

Paynter added that the LS*LIMS offers a number of advantages over ABI’s previous LIMS products, “which have received a lot of criticism in the past.” One improvement, he noted, is the system’s drag-and-drop user interface, which allows researchers to build experimental workflows by dragging icons across the screen. “It’s not just a bunch of tables,” he said.

Geospiza’s Banks said that although Finch has always had data-transfer integration with ABI’s sequencing instruments — as well as those of other vendors, such as GE Healthcare’s MegaBace — the application was not integrated with SQL*LIMS or other previous ABI LIMS products. LS*LIMS, however, which ABI launched in September [BioInform 09-27-04], is “extensible into other life science data-management areas, like proteomics and microarrays, that Finch is not,” Banks said, which could give the company access to a broader user base than it already has.

“What we hear from not only our current customers, but potential prospects, is they’re looking for more integrated systems,” Banks said. “The next-generation systems they want to purchase are not piecemeal solutions — buying something from vendor one, vendor two, vendor three. They really want that all-out integrated solution that they can get from a single vendor, and be supported by a single vendor.”

ABI and Geospiza are currently in discussions to integrate Finch with other bioinformatics applications at ABI. James said he could not disclose the details of these plans, but said there are “a lot of options on the table.” Some likely packages include ABI’s GeneMapper and SeqScape software products, for genotyping and sequence analysis, respectively. Banks said that Geospiza has already had requests “from a number of customers to bring integration with GeneMapper into Finch.”

The companies expect to wrap up the integration process and launch the combined system within the next six months, James said.

Beyond its work with Geospiza on the sequencing front, James said that ABI plans to integrate LS*LIMS with analytical applications for gene expression, proteomics, and other “vertical markets.” Some of these analytics will be developed in-house, he said, but others will likely come through partnership deals similar to the Geospiza agreement.

James said that this plan is in line with the informatics strategy ABI implemented after its company-wide reorganization in July. Ramin Cyrus, senior director for marketing for ABI’s services and systems solutions group, told BioInform last month [BioInform 01-10-05] that the company is working with “a lot of world-class partners to work collaboratively to fill out [the] portfolio of solutions our customers need.” James said that Geospiza is the first example of this new partnership strategy.

Banks surmised that ABI may not have entered into such a partnership before its restructuring. “I think through the reorganization of Applied Biosystems, they’re now adjusting their business model to begin to look at partners to help them in areas that we’re working on, rather than trying to do it all themselves,” he said. “So I believe there’s a correlation with the new management that is on board there and looking to be a more partner-centric company.”

— BT

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