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Ariel Darvasi, Founder, President, and CSO of IDGene

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AT A GLANCE: Holds a PhD in Genetics and Computer Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Started his corporate career as associate director at SmithKline Beecham two years prior to founding IDGene in 1999. Holds a faculty position at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Starts each day by playing with his three-year old daughter; ends the day a couple of hours before that. Preferred hobby is downhill skiing.

QWhere will bioinformatics be in two years? Five years?

AThe term bioinformatics is used right now for a very broad range of issues. For example, laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and searching expressed sequence tags (ESTs) databases are both bioinformatics, but require very different professional backgrounds. I expect that in the future the field of bioinformatics will grow and differentiate. Like IT, it will diversify and develop in various directions.

I expect that leaders will emerge and very few providers will dominate a major share of the market. A process of consolidation and survival of the fittest will undoubtedly occur.

QWhat are your bioinformatics needs?

AOur mission is to identify the genetic basis of polygenic traits, particularly common diseases. Although a significant component of our work is wet molecular biology, the scale of our operations requires strong bioinformatics support.

The tools we need comprise a wide range of disciplines within bioinformatics. This includes specific laboratory information management systems to manage the laboratory workflow and tools to allow us to better predict candidate genes and candidate chromosomal regions for analysis.

Following that, we need bioinformatics to efficiently analyze the results of experiments that are run at the laboratory. The diverse systems need also to be integrated for a smooth flow at the junction points.

QWhat are the biggest limitations current bioinformatics tools present?

AThe major limitation is that current bioinformatics tools are designed to answer the questions that scientist have been asking in the past, or ask today. We would like bioinformatics to be flexible enough to allow scientists to ask new questions and promote innovative research.

QDo you plan on developing your own bioinformatics tools in house or will you buy all of your software from outside vendors?

ASome of our bioinformatics tools are being developed in house, not because we like to do that, but because we can’t find what we need elsewhere. There are few companies in the world that are entirely focused on research similar to ours.

Furthermore, part of our uniqueness and competitive advantage relies on bioinformatics approaches that cannot be found elsewhere. To meet our unique needs we will continue to develop our bioinformatics tools. Nevertheless, we are always on the lookout for new products to bring in.

QHow large is your bioinformatics staff? Your total staff?

AWe have a group of 5 out of a total of 25. We expect both numbers to grow significantly in the near future. We also estimate that the ratio of our bioinformatics staff will increase.

QHow do you attract and retain qualified bioinformatics staff?

AOur situation is slightly unique since our research site is in Israel. Similar to the rest of the world and maybe at a greater extent we suffer from a lack of well-trained bioinformatics professionals. We cope with that mainly by training people with relevant backgrounds.

Retaining staff is done by maintaining one of the most attractive working environments in the biotechnology sector in Israel.

QHow much money have you raised so far?

AWe have raised close to $10 million in total, from Apax Partners, IsraelSeed, European Venture Partners, and the Wellcome Trust.

QWhat non-existing bioinformatics application is number one on your wish list?

AA flexible platform that will rely on access to various sources of information (sequence databases, protein databases, scientific literature, etc.) and integrate them with efficient data mining tools.

This is a definite desire, which is unlikely to be met in the near future.

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