Agilent Technologies is taking steps to “realign” its current informatics portfolio in an effort to better integrate several products it has picked up through recent acquisitions, according to company officials.
The realignment, which is expected to result in a more unified software platform, is in step with a new four-point growth initiative underway in Agilent’s life science business that includes a greater focus on informatics as well as microarrays, proteomics, and diagnostics.
Nick Roelofs, Agilent’s general manager of life sciences, outlined the four growth initiatives at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco earlier this month.
Describing informatics as “really fundamental in transforming how laboratories analyze data and handle data,” Roelofs estimated the informatics market at around $600 million and said that Agilent currently has around 12 percent market share and “tens of thousands of users” in the sector.
While noting that $600 million is “not a particularly high revenue opportunity for any company, and certainly not a particularly high revenue opportunity for us,” he said that informatics is “a fundamental backbone across the laboratory” and therefore an important focus for the firm.
Agilent doesn’t break out its informatics revenues. Jordan Stockton, informatics marketing manager, told BioInform that while informatics revenues are indeed “small” relative to Agilent’s other businesses, he noted that “it’s a big growth initiative in terms of the relative growth of the informatics business.”
Informatics is “worthy of Agilent’s investment because it’s so essential for people to derive value from the instruments that they buy in the first place,” Stockton said. “If all you end up with is a spreadsheet of numbers on a piece of paper after you use an instrument, we really haven’t done you any service, or you at least haven’t realized much benefit from the instrument.”
Stockton added that because the company sells both instruments and software, informatics is “a differentiator and a positive differentiator for Agilent.”
Building the Agilent Informatics Platform
“We’ve fairly recently taken a look at all of our informatics assets and sort of realigned them to really speak toward there being a single platform — basically the Agilent informatics platform — to address the entire laboratory’s needs,” Stockton said.
Stockton declined to provide details of how this realignment would affect the company’s current informatics product line. He did note that the GeneSpring microarray analysis suite that the company picked up in its 2004 acquisition of Silicon Genetics would factor heavily in the platform, as would chromatography-analysis software that it gained when it acquired Scientific Software Incorporated in 2005 [see BioInform 9/6/2004 and 5/30/2005].
The company is still considering whether it will rebrand any of its current products as part of the realignment process.
“The high-level goal is to make sure these tools are as interoperable as possible where people need to have a single workflow,” Stockton said. “Our real goal is to become the operating system for the lab, and I think we’re not too far away from that with even the components that we have.”
Stockton explained that this “operating system” would include applications for data acquisition, data management, data analysis, and “tertiary analysis,” which Stockton explained as “mapping disparate types of data or making some biological conclusion based on the data.”
Describing the realignment as “an ongoing process,” Stockton noted that the company is not disclosing a timeline for the effort at this time. “We’re going to see small steps and a number of releases over the next year, year and a half,” he said.
He did note, however, that the company plans to launch a bioinformatics “workgroup product” in the middle of 2007, though he did not elaborate.
Stockton also declined to comment on whether Agilent is looking to acquire additional informatics firms to fill in any gaps in its current portfolio as it works toward building a comprehensive informatics platform.
Despite not being a “particularly high revenue opportunity” for the company, informatics is “worthy of Agilent’s investment because it’s so essential for people to derive value from the instruments that they buy in the first place.”
“It’s both about integrating what we have and looking at technologies that complete the end-to-end picture,” he said. He cited partnerships with pathway informatics companies as “a big emphasis that we’ve had over the last year that continues to be even more of an emphasis” for the GeneSpring product line in particular.
In addition, he said that the company is “investing heavily” in electronic content management tools that will “simplify the workflow and automation from acquiring laboratory information.”
Benefits from the BioIT Alliance
In his JP Morgan talk, Roelofs cited Agilent’s participation in Microsoft’s BioIT Alliance as an important aspect of its informatics strategy. Through the initiative, he said, “we intend to create open platforms that allow the analysis of data all the way across instrumentation — our equipment, other peoples’ equipment — with a homogeneous code base background that allows people to openly access the system and write code on the Microsoft foundation.”
Stockton told BioInform that Agilent has seen several benefits from the alliance so far, particularly with regard to the recently launched Biomarker Project [BioInform 10-20-06].
“It’s a chance for the industry to use Microsoft’s presence in the software market to get people to basically stand up and define what success is going to look like in the biomarker screening market,” he said.
Stockton noted that “the biggest benefit so far has just been the interaction with the other participants, who are in very complementary spaces. There are people in the data-acquisition space, and there are people who are actually doing different types of bioinformatics.”
As an example, he said that there are several sequence-analysis companies participating in the initiative, “which is something that we don’t really do at all, but can be complementary in a biomarker-screening workflow.”
Rather than stressing data-exchange standards, the BioIT Alliance has been more of “a brainstorming session about how the tools can work together,” Stockton said.
Don Rule, platform strategy advisor for bioinformatics at Microsoft and coordinator of the BioIT Alliance, has stressed since the initiative was first launched that the goal is not to develop standards — a philosophy that Agilent agrees with wholeheartedly, according to Stockton.
“What they’re doing is going out and talking to key respective customers of the members of the Alliance, and asking them, from a workflow standpoint, what needs to talk to what, and how much of a time savings, money savings, staffing savings is that going to buy you? And [they are using] that as a driver rather than generating standards for the sake of generating standards, which I think has been done in this industry,” Stockton said.
“Microsoft, by their presence, bring players together that wouldn’t have been brought together otherwise,” Stockton said. “That’s been a real benefit of the Alliance.”