While most bioinformatics companies have recently been angling their products downstream toward clinical development, SysArris of Bangalore, India, has been heading upstream.
The 200-person company was founded in 1994 as part of the software development center for Clinarium, now Aris Global, a Stamford, Conn.-based provider of software for drug safety, regulatory affairs, clinical trials, and medical communications.
But in 1997, one of its clients wanted software for the discovery area, specifically in genome screening. So the company developed a data management solution for this area.
“That’s when we realized that we had a lot of potential and we formed the second division of the company, which is the discovery or the life sciences informatics division,” said Sanjay Bettadpura, a senior business development executive in the life sciences division.
Now, the life science division alone has a staff of 40 people, and this March, the company opened offices in Munich and the Boston area.
Bettadpura, who is heading up the Boston office, located in Waltham, concedes that it’s a bit of an upstream battle for any company to get into the discovery end of informatics these days, but insists that SysArris has a number of advantages in negotiating these rough waters, including a foot in the door with pharma and biotech and the cost-and-talent advantage of having its software development team in India.
But Bettadpura also emphasized the company’s strength in providing consulting services rather than an off-the-shelf approach. “What we have understood in the last four years in this industry is, there are many tools in the bioinformatics industry — for genomics, for proteomics, and for so many other things — but none of them really match up to the requirements of the clients and there are still a lot of issues with integration and other things,” he said. “So what we’ve been offering are custom services for every specific requirement where we understand the requirement and come out with solutions very customized for them.”
This solutions-consulting tack is by now old hat in bioinformatics, but this company has been doing it all along, before the rest of the bioinformatics world abandoned its product-oriented strategies. SysArris has a team of around 25 very experienced consultants “who have worked in the research side of things, in wet labs,” and are leaders in high-throughput screening, proteomics, transcriptomics, and metabolomics, Bettadpura said.
While Aris’ clients include Amgen, AstraZeneca, Cyclacel, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Nycomed, Parke-Davis, Pfizer, and Takeda, so far, SysArris has successfully applied this approach to garner customers including a Chicago-based biotech company, as well as EuroGentec in Belgium, and the TATAA Biocenter at the Lundberg Laboratory in Göteborg, Sweden. The company is also in “advanced discussions” with a public-sector lab.
But despite this apparent rejection of tools in favor of consulting, the company has not shied away from offering specific software applications, such as its latest addition, the OligoSys software for design of siRNAs.
“While we are a services organization, we wanted to have some tools which would showcase our skills,” Bettadpura said. “Today [OligoSys] is our flagship product in the genomics area.”
OligoSys originally was designed for manufacturers of oligonucleotides to offer to customers through their own websites. The system is built on an ASP model, so it can be integrated seamlessly into a manufacturer’s web interface, and enables customers to design oligos, TaqMan primers, hybridization probes, RT-PCR primers, and siRNA. It allows high-throughput uploading of thousands of sequences at a time, according to the company.
Due to requests from smaller clients that wanted a desktop product, the company is also offering just the siRNA module as a standalone tool or through the web for $1,000 .
“What we are seeing is that there is definitely a great demand for PCR, and even a greater demand for siRNA,” Bettadpura said. “There are still a lot of constraints that we are trying to fight. People still have the mindset that what’s done through software might not be accurate… so we’re trying to fight against all these beliefs that the clients have.”
The company is also working on a microarray enterprise solution as well as software for protein profiling.
Meanwhile, Bettadpura is actively working on finding a permanent office for the company in Boston, to accommodate the company’s peripatetic consultants while they are in the East Coast’s biotech hub. While the initial occupants of the Boston office will come from India, “over time, we would like to have a full-fledged marketing team right here,” Bettadpura said.