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Armed with $1M SBIR and New Hires, Cognia Steps up Protein Informatics Program


New York-based Cognia said this week that it was awarded a $1 million, two-year Phase II Small Business Innovation and Research grant from the NIGMS to further develop its proteomics database platform. In addition to the grant, new appointments to the company’s board and management team will help the company accelerate product development and commercialization plans for its proteomics informatics tools, said CEO David Rubin.

Cognia, which had its beginnings as the US distributor for Wolfenb ttel, Germany-based Biobase’s Transfac and Transpath databases, began development of its own proprietary platform last spring, when it won its first Phase I SBIR grant to develop a database on protein catabolism. That was followed by another Phase I SBIR awarded in the fall for development of a protein localization database. The new funding, according to Rubin, will support development of a complete platform to store information on proteins, protein interactions, modifications, and the like. Content modules like the protein catabolism and protein localization database, as well as others that Cognia has planned, will plug into the platform or be available separately as stand-alone offerings, Rubin said.

The company also plans to offer a customization service to curate and integrate protein pathways.

While Cognia’s initial plans to act as a distributor for third-party databases didn’t pan out as well as the company had hoped, Rubin said its experience on the commercial side of bioinformatics gave it an edge in the SBIR granting process. “Not that many companies are small enough to fit into the mandate of the granting agency, but also have a history of commercialization,” he said.

In addition, the company’s installed base of customers for Transfac and Transpath — which includes Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Aventis, Monsanto, Schering Plough, Celera Genomics, ImClone, Vertex, Celltech, and 3rd Millennium — provides a ready-made distribution channel for its own product line, scheduled to begin rolling out by the end of the year.

In addition to its commercial clients, Cognia lists Harvard Medical School, Yale, the Whitehead Institute, and Stanford among more than 50 academic institutes who have purchased licenses to the “professional” version of Transfac, despite the availability of a free academic version.

This willingness for both commercial and academic researchers to pay for data bolsters Rubin’s hope that a viable market for biological information still exists. While genomic sequence data quickly became “somewhat of a commodity” due to the rush to sequence the human genome, Rubin said the complexity of the next phases of genomic research would make a similar scenario less likely.

“Companies are going to pay good money to get high-quality, organized data that they can actually work with,” he said.

To further kick its protein informatics plans into high gear, Cognia recently appointed Robert Merold, formerly COO of Proteome, to its board of directors. In addition, Brian Osborne, who previously ran the bioinformatics groups of Cadus and OSI Pharmaceuticals, will join the company as director of informatics, and Grace Stafford, another Proteome alum, will serve as curation manager.

— BT

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