Last week bioinformatics startup Biosift announced that it had acquired Entigen’s intellectual property and technology assets — a move that kicks off the company’s strategy to grow both its technology offering and its business over the course of this year, according to Viviane Siino, director of marketing.
Biosift plans to integrate Entigen’s BioNavigator portal and Adaapt integration platform with its own Scintilla browser and Radia sequencing analysis software within the next six months, Siino said. In addition, the company is keeping its eyes open for additional technologies to either build on its own or acquire, particularly in the areas of proteomics and gene expression, she said.
Now, at the first anniversary of the initial launch of Scintilla, Biosift has decided that it is “time to keep building,” Siino said. The company has grown from 10 to 15 employees in the last year, and currently claims nine customers, including Invitrogen and EmerGen. It has also opened sales offices in San Francisco and Montreal to extend its reach beyond Cambridge, Mass., where it is headquartered.
Biosift is currently seeking venture capital funding to support its expansion plans and, despite the hostile funding climate for tools companies these days, Siino said that the company has seen some “strong bites” from interested VCs.
Shortcut to Success?
Siino said that acquiring existing technology was the simplest way for Biosift to accelerate the development of its own technology platform. “Now we’ll get in six months what we were hoping Radia 2.0 would be a year from now,” she said. While not disclosing the purchase price of Entigen’s technology, Siino said it is of tremendous value to Biosift. “There’s over 20 man-years of development invested in BioNavigator alone,” she noted.
Not only that, but by acquiring Entigen’s technology, Biosift ensured that “competitors didn’t get their hands on it,” Siino said.
There is some overlap between the companies’ technologies. Both BioNavigator and Scintilla, for example, combine a number of analysis tools and databases into a single interface. However, there is a “tremendous amount” of information integrated into BioNavigator that was not previously available in Scintilla, Siino said. In addition, BioNavigator provides an automated pipeline analysis system so that users can create reusable analysis “templates,” she said — another new capability for the Biosift technology portfolio.
Biosift also hopes to gain a few new customers out of the technology acquisition. Siino said that she’s already heard from several former Entigen customers who have been using BioNavigator since the company ceased operations last March and are eager to have a new company support it.
The Big Question
Of course, ensuring the longevity of the technology this time around is one of the biggest challenges Biosift faces as it pushes forward with its expansion plans. Siino noted that the customer wins it has so far came only because Biosift was able to “demonstrate that we are here to stay.”
Acknowledging the dismal history of bioinformatics portal companies like Entigen and DoubleTwist, Siino said that Biosift is not focusing heavily on that aspect of its offering, but views it as a good way to gain market penetration for its growing suite of bioinformatics tools.
By running lean, carefully controlling its cash burn, and continuing to sign new customers, Biosift may have a better shot at survival than Entigen, which grew quickly to almost 70 employees during the bioinformatics boom in 2000, and then found itself unable to raise much-needed funding in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
“We’re slowly but steadily growing,” Siino said.