Biotique Systems’ founders are trying to prove that it is indeed possible to learn from your experiences. DoubleTwist veterans John Burke and Stephen Sanders pooled their cash in April of 2001 to launch the company, and now claim Bristol-Myers Squibb, Berlex Laboratories, and several other undisclosed companies as customers for the Biotique Local Integration Solution (BLIS) data integration, analysis, and visualization platform.
But Burke and Sanders have set out on a different path than their now-defunct alma mater. “DoubleTwist had quite a bit of success in the market, but just had challenges in maintaining its size,” said Sanders. Vowing to “stay lean,” Sanders said that Biotique is growing at a “very sustainable rate,” and was profitable after its first quarter of business.
In addition, Sanders asserted that Biotique is “not a bioinformatics company.” So what is it? “We’re a company focused on providing decision-support tools and services that allow our customers to integrate, visualize, and analyze public and proprietary genomic information, and perform target discovery and validation.”
Until somebody coins a clever one-word term to sum that all up, Burke, Sanders, and the remainder of Biotique’s staff of 10 are content to plug away at keeping their customers happy. Buzzwords and hype are not part of the Biotique agenda, Sanders noted — perhaps another lesson learned from those days at DoubleTwist.
An Open Approach to Opening Doors
BLIS is one of a growing number of data integration solutions available now, but Burke and Sanders claim several distinctions from competitors like GeneticXchange, Acero, Lion, and BioSift. For one thing, the BLIS source and schema is available to licensees, so customers can use the system as a development platform. This accounts for the high level of in-house development within bioinformatics departments, Sanders said, and also encourages users to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.
Another difference, said Sanders, is that installation takes only a few hours, and the system offers a wizard feature that allows users to add their own data sources relatively easily. In addition, the BLIS integration uses an annotated genome as a “reference template” so users can view their proprietary data along with other data sources as “tracks” on an annotated genome of their choice.
Bristol-Myers Squibb plans to use BLIS primarily at its Wallingford, Conn.; Hopewell and Lawrenceville, NJ; and Wilmington, Del., drug discovery sites. Approximately 700 researchers will have access to around two dozen sources of data through the system. Dan Davison, associate director of bioinformatics at BMS, said that at least another two dozen data sources would be integrated in the near future.
Davison said that his team at BMS evaluated “a number of graphical genomic information display systems,” and BLIS came the closest to a specification they had developed for displaying genomic information.
Davison and his team currently take a federated approach to data integration based on automated generation of hypertext links between databases, a list of gene names they call “the Harmonizer” and a human-curated master web page for each gene of relevance for therapeutic areas. Davison said it’s still too early to tell what advantages BLIS may offer over this system.
BLIS uses the Ensembl web interface — a plus, Davison said, because it is familiar to experimentalists at BMS’s Pharmaceutical Research Institute. In addition, Biotique’s source-code-level support for the Ensembl system frees up about one-third of a full-time employee’s time in Davison’s group, he estimated. Ease of installation, support for data source upgrades, and the system’s extensibility were additional selling points, he said.
Biotique also offers modular analysis components that plug into BLIS. Berlex, which originally licensed BLIS in October 2001, recently added Biotique’s comparative genomics extension product for model organism genome analysis and biochip design. In addition, an undisclosed biochip manufacturer has also licensed the BLIS system and Biotique’s services to enhance its chip design process.