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AccuraScience Looks to Expand Services Business into Industry, and Eventually Clinics

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – AccuraScience is hoping to build a business around providing data analysis services to researchers in academia, industry, and eventually clinical facilities who have begun to use next-generation sequencing in their projects and who, for various reasons, choose to outsource their bioinformatics needs.

The Johnston, Iowa-based company, which also has an office in Beijing, set up shop in June 2013 and provides a bevy of services for processing, analyzing, and interpreting next-generation sequence data from all the major sequencing instruments. AccuraScience is also mulling providing software products and is currently working on SNP calling software that it plans to launch in the future. But it chose to focus on providing services first because it believes there are still a lot of analysis challenges in the space that make sense to adopt case by case, Justin Li, the company's president and one of its lead bioinformaticians, told BioInform. Some companies have developed very effective solutions for specific tasks but there is "a large gap between existing solutions and what researchers need," he said.

Furthermore, AccuraScience's services meet a pressing need in biomedicine for analysis capabilities and support as sequencing costs plummet and new instruments are developed and sold. It's a challenge for researchers, Li said, because many are not trained bioinformaticians and while they are eager to take advantage of new technologies, they may lack the requisite expertise to analyze the data they generate in a manner that yields the most fruit.

AccuraScience's bioinformatics team has a combined 125 years worth of experience in bioinformatics research and development, and 50 years worth of experience in NGS data analysis with most team members trained in both biomedicine and software development. This concentration of talent and experience coupled with the ability to speak both the biological and computing languages is one of the firm's strengths and sets it apart in the commercial bioinformatics market, according to Li.

Moreover, he added, most of the staff have served either as faculty or managed bioinformatics facilities, which gives them a good grasp of customers' needs and how best to run projects. Finally, AccuraScience believes its service saves clients time and money. It estimates, for example, that its service represents a 75 percent cost savings compared to hiring an in-house expert and a two-thirds savings in terms of time to results.

Depending on what customers want and need, the company's eight lead bioinformaticians cobble primarily open-source software and algorithms into routine or customized pipelines for handling experimentally generated data including whole-genome and -exome sequencing, targeted sequencing, RNA-seq, ChIP-seq, DNA methylation, metagenomic data, and more. The firm also offers statistical modeling, data mining and integration, and database construction and maintenance, and offers flexible pricing for its services as academic and industry customers can pick from one of three service tracks.

The first of these is the routine analysis track which covers the kinds of analyses for which there are already established pipelines and packages such as RNA-seq, ChIP-seq, DNA methylation, and exome seq analysis, Li said. Price quotes in this category are determined by the number of samples. The second track is intended for so-called "engineering-oriented projects," Li said, which are essentially projects that require customized pipelines involving multiple established steps and extensive interpretation. It covers projects that involved multiple data types as well as those that require heavy computation. For these cases, AccuraScience quotes an all-inclusive flat rate. The final category includes research-driven projects where the company offers consulting-based services at an hourly rate — pricing for this track could soon switch to a flat rate quote, Li said.

So far, most of the company's clients have come from academia — about 90 percent, according to Li — largely because all eight members of its bioinformatics team are past academics that retain connections with previous colleagues. Its customer roster includes researchers at the University of Haifa, Israel; University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; Temple University School of Medicine; and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. But AccuraScience is seeking more business from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, and is familiarizing itself with requirements for operating in the clinical space with an eye towards eventually pushing its services into that market as well, Li said.

Technically speaking, the company believes it has the requisite analysis know how that clinical users need but it is still sussing out the compliance requirements of the space, Li said. For now, the company is focused on establishing itself further and building deeper relationships in academia, and trying to make inroads into industry, he said. The company is also expanding its services menu in response to clients' requests. It is currently recruiting new talent for its lead team with expertise in domains such as infrastructure and hardware development as well as molecular modeling, Li said.

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