Pratap Malik, president and co-founder of the Cambridge, Mass.-based company, said Biosift’s ability to attract paying customers for the product is proof of the demand for quality tools in the sector. “Suddenly, a lot of people are thinking [bioinformatics] is risky, but it’s a question of whether you provide something that fulfills a need in the market,” he said. With Scintilla positioned to “address the needs of the bioinformaticians as well as the needs of the end scientists,” Malik said he’s certain that “there is a huge potential in this market” for his company’s tools.
Biosift recently launched version 1.4 of Scintilla, which adds data from the Distributed Annotation System and Ensembl, as well as General Feature Format data, to the 182 genomes and more than 300 other public databases that were integrated in the March 1.0 release of the product. In addition, Biosift incorporates its clients’ proprietary data sources into the relational database at the core of the system.
But Scintilla is “not just a data integration system,” Malik stressed, noting that it is also an intuitive visualization tool and computational platform.
Malik, who holds a PhD in chemistry from Stanford University, co-founded Biosift with CEO Christopher Sears, who holds a PhD in biochemistry from Harvard University and served as the bioinformatics group leader and scientific architect for NetGenics prior to launching the startup. Now 10 employees strong — all biochemists, biologists, and bioinformaticists — Biosift is acutely aware of the ends of the bench scientist in its product design and service, according to Malik. Although the company customizes each product installation, the process is “a breeze,” he said, and can typically be done in just one afternoon.
While Biosift was unable to disclose three of its recently signed clients, one of the company’s new customers was happy to talk about the benefits of the system. Callum Bell, director of bioinformatics at Salt Lake City-based EmerGen, said that Scintilla’s price/performance ratio was much better than other commercially available integration options, and even beat out the time and manpower it would require to build an in-house system. Formerly a software programmer at the National Center for Genomic Resources, Bell noted that he’s had a lot of tools cross his path, “but seldom do I get a reaction internally that says this is something I would build myself.”
Bell noted that the architecture of the relational database was an important factor in his decision, because “Biosift encourages you to use the database for other purposes.”
In addition to being a useful genome browser, he said, database access at the schema level comes in handy when integrating additional data.
Scintilla is available either as an in-house server-based subscription or via an ASP delivery model on a per-user basis. For in-house installation, packages include the server license plus 5, 10, or 25 client access licenses. Software requirements on the server side include MS SQL Server Standard edition and recommended hardware includes a dual 1 GHz Pentium-III with 1 GB of RAM.