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Andrew Conway, President and CEO, Silicon Genetics

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AT A GLANCE

PhD in mathematics from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a second PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford University.

Before founding Silicon Genetics, served as head of the bioinformatics group at the Stanford DNA Sequence and Technology Center.

Enjoys skiing and ballroom dancing: “I’ve seen more accidents on dance floors than ski slopes.”

QWhere will bioinformatics be in two years? Five years?

ABioinformatics is currently considered new and fashionable. Over time — probably more than five years — this will change to mature and mainstream. Bioinformatics is a useful tool for understanding life, and it is inherently complex, so it is here to stay.

QWhat are the biggest challenges the bioinformatics sector faces?

ACommunication. The field is bringing in many people from diverse backgrounds with different vocabularies and assumptions. It’s mainly a vocabulary issue. For instance, “matrix” and “vector” mean very different things to a mathematician and a biologist. Communicating between them is very important, and quite difficult.

QHow do you foresee being able to overcome that problem?

AThe main way is having people who understand both languages. We work very hard to make our software tools usable by biologists without extensive statistical or computer training.

QWhat do you see as the most important task for bioinformatics to address beyond genome sequence analysis?

AAt the moment, gene expression. Sequencing measures genotypes — expression measures phenotypes. The two are very complementary.

QWho are your current customers? Which additional customer group do you aim to capture?

APharmaceutical, biotech, and academia. We have both a desktop product and a scalable enterprise system. We have been so successful with our early GeneSpring desktop product, that many people have not realized that we also have a scalable enterprise system based upon our GeNet database. GeNet is now being used by many companies, and we are concentrating on telling people about it. We announced five new GeNet deals in the past few weeks.

QWhat non-existing technology is number one on your customers’ wish list?

AWhat everyone really wants is you get some technicians to do an experiment, put them in the box, and the cure for cancer comes out. You can’t do that but we’re working on it.

QHow large is your bioinformatics staff?

AWe’re a bioinformatics company, so it’s most of the company! We have around 50 total employees.

QDo you expect to see more M&A activity in the bioinformatics sector?

AI do expect more M&A as the industry matures, as there are some times when bigger companies are more appropriate for some products. I think that bioinformatics companies will be able to exist as independent entities ... even as pretty large independent entities. The market is reasonably large right now, and growing rapidly.

QSilicon Genetics was among the first companies to offer a commercial gene expression analysis package. How do you intend to keep pace with the huge growth of this market recently and compete with the growing number of new players?

ANone of the new companies in this area have turned out to be significant competition for us. Because we were the first to have our products out in the field we’ve been able to continue to improve them in response to customer feedback. We have to keep improving our products, so rather than thinking of these new companies as competition, we see them as the best way of staying on our toes.

QWhat made you decide to enter a career in bioinformatics?

AAfter I did a PhD in mathematics, I decided I wanted to do something more practical. So I did a second PhD in helicopter navigation, but decided I didn’t want to be in aerospace. I looked around at what new exciting fields of science were opening up, and bioinformatics stood out as being exciting, fascinating, rapidly growing and useful to humanity. I moved in, and never regretted it.

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