Proteomics software provider BioAnalyte has adopted a licensing strategy that it considers unique in the bioinformatics industry, which allows the firm “to sell into a disposables budget rather than a capital software budget,” according to Peter Leopold, president of BioAnalyte.
The company’s software, called Trawler, is a data-reduction tool for cleaning mass spec peak lists. In line with Trawler — and the company’s nautical product theme — is the so-called Nets license, which is available for $100 and tied to an individual chromatogram.
Managers of mass spec core labs — BioAnalyte’s primary market — must deliver processed data to their customers, but those customers often can’t reanalyze the data themselves because per-seat licenses for typical software packages tend to run in the five-digit range.
Using Nets, core labs can “deliver the raw data and some specific tools back to the customers, so the customers can then look at the data themselves and do some analysis,” Leopold said.
BioAnalyte, an eight-person company based in Portland, Maine, has partnered with Positive Probability, a UK-based firm that’s “even smaller than we are,” Leopold said, to develop the Trawler technology. Positive Probability has developed a statistics-based data reconstruction algorithm called ReSpect that serves as the core “engine” for the Trawler software, Leopold said.
The software sits between the raw mass spec data and a search engine like Mascot or Sequest, Leopold said, which places the tiny company in competition with the instrument vendors who typically provide their own data-capture software along with their mass spectrometers.
However, Leopold noted, “It is the nature of the instrumentation business to provide the best possible instruments and the most feasible software,” whereas “we respond to the need to have the best possible software for the best possible instrument.”
One advantage of Trawler, Leopold said, is that it provides cross-platform capability. For now, the software supports the MassLynx file format from Waters and the Xcalibur format from Thermo Electron, so users can switch between data sets for both instruments.
The company plans to add proprietary file formats for other mass spec vendors, Leopold said, with Bruker likely to be next on the list.
The proteomics community is moving toward mass spec data format standards, with efforts like the Institute for Systems Biology’s mzXML and the Protein Standard Initiative’s mzData gathering steam. Leopold noted that these efforts shouldn’t encroach on the company’s competitive advantage, however, because they apply only to processed data, not raw data.
Brian Musselman, a proteomics industry consultant for SciMarket Strategies, said that this capability, in concert with the flexible licensing strategy, should appeal to proteomics lab managers — in academic as well as commercial settings.
The problem today, Musselman said, “is that if somebody from division one in a company discovers a peptide, they may call up their partners in division two to look at it, but if division two is using a different instrument, they can’t check that data.” The result, he said, is that “there is no real collaboration between the groups.”
With BioAnalyte’s software, he said, anyone can open up any data set and reanalyze it. In addition, he said, because “the data and the algorithm are inextricably linked,” the approach could help resolve some data-archiving challenges. As companies upgrade their instruments — and their software — labs often have multiple computers running several generations of software in order to access legacy data, he said.
Musselman acknowledged that for large labs processing many, many data sets, it may not take long to run up five-digit licensing fees, which could place the Trawler system in the same price range as some alternative systems. Nevertheless, he noted, “the value is in the transportability, and in the fact that you don’t have a major up-front commitment.”
BioAnalyte was founded in 2001, “but we have been below the radar for a few years as we’ve been working out some technical issues and trying to establish our place in the market,” Leopold said.
Largely through word of mouth, BioAnalyte has picked up a number of customers, among them the US Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the University of Michigan, as well as “some companies in the Bethesda, [Md.], area, Health Canada, and a company in Australia,” Leopold said.
Now, he said, BioAnalyte is ready for a bit more exposure. This June, it will host a booth at the American Society for Mass Spectrometry conference, a venue where its technology has previously been presented in the form of posters and talks, but not booth-speak.
Another big mass spectrometry show, the recent Pittcon meeting, was not an option, however. “When Bruker and ABI and Thermo are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to be noticed, it would be very difficult to be noticed as well,” he said.