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Almac Launches Bioinformatics Consultancy to Support Pharma, Biotech, Dx Companies


By Uduak Grace Thomas

Almac Diagnostics has launched a bioinformatics consultancy service to provide expertise and support for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and diagnostics companies looking to outsource their informatics needs.

The firm said in a statement last week that it would offer a range of customizable bioinformatics and biostatistics solutions to help with biomarker discovery and development, exploratory analysis, mechanistic and functional analysis, traditional and next-generation sequencing data analysis, biostatistics, and data integration.

Paul Harkin, president and managing director of Almac Diagnostics, said in the statement that the company launched the service to give clients access to Almac’s team of bioinformaticians and biostatisticians, which has provided "invaluable support for both [Almac’s] internal research and external work."

Almac’s bioinformatics team comprises 20 researchers from several disciplines including biology, medicine, mathematics, and biostatistics as well as molecular and cell biology, drug discovery and development, and diagnostic product development.

Michael Sloan, Almac’s vice president of business development, told BioInform that the team will provide services and support to clients from its facilities in Manchester, UK; Craigavon in Northern Ireland, UK; and Durham, NC.

He described Almac’s new business arm as a more "formalized" packaging of the firm’s bioinformatics offerings which includes customized informatics solutions as well as assistance with study design, project management, and assay development, among other services.

Sloan said Almac’s team has experience in "analyzing complex datasets" as part of the development process for companion diagnostic tests and has in place IT infrastructure and software platforms, including Matlab, Partek Genomics Suite, and Ingenuity Pathway Analysis, as well as "optimized" data-analysis methods, which he expects will encourage clients to patronize the service rather than invest in an in-house informatics infrastructure and personnel.

At present, Almac has no plans to hire additional staff for its bioinformatics team; however, Sloan said that it is likely that the firm will have some vacancies in the future.

Growing Outsourcing Markets

Sloan explained that Almac launched the business to tap into an increasing need for compute infrastructure by large pharma companies where bioinformatics regularly requires excess capacity.

Sloan added that bioinformatics and biostatistics are "fundamental and core to everything in biomarker discovery and development" in that they underpin everything from original study design to analyzing the biology to validating the signatures. "There is a huge opportunity to support [pharma companies’] bioinformatics teams or they can outsource the whole lot," Sloan said.

The firm also sees opportunities to serve "as the bioinformatics department" for smaller biotech and academic researchers who are "less inclined to invest in their own team," Sloan said.

Sloan’s comments seem to align with those reported by UK-based bioinformatics services company Eagle Genomics in a recent white paper.

In the paper, Eagle noted that "with reducing research and development budgets, revenue streams under threat from near-expired drug patents, and general loss of consumer confidence leading to reduced sales, every organization in the biotech world …is faced with making difficult decisions about the future structure and purpose of R&D teams."

The report concluded that outsourcing is "vital to the ongoing ability of bioinformatics teams to effectively support R&D activities within their organizations." (BI 12/10/2010)

While Almac will have to contend with companies like 5AM Solutions and Seleventa, who also provide bioinformatics resources to biotech and drug development companies, Sloan observed that there aren’t many vendors in the space with similar offerings.

Almac plans to stay ahead of the competition by continuing to develop its data-analysis methods to keep pace with new platforms.

Sloan declined to provide details about fees for the service, stating that it depends on the project requirements.

In 2009, in an attempt to address increasing demands from pharma and biotech, Almac opened its bioinformatics facility in Manchester, UK.

Earlier that year, Almac announced partnerships with Eli Lilly to develop companion diagnostics for the non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer combination therapy of Alimta (pemetrexed) and cisplatin; and with Pfizer to identify molecular subtypes, biomarkers, and drug targets for colorectal cancer (BI 12/11/2009).

Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioInform? Contact the editor at uthomas [at] genomeweb [.] com.

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