BioWisdom this week announced that it has signed a pilot services agreement with GlaxoSmithKline and said that such a deal represents a growing trend among its pharma customers to pen service deals.
BioWisdom’s CTO Steve Gardner told Bioinform
that the company’s services group is seeing interest from customers in projects involving its legacy Sofia “intelligence network” technology, which develops custom biomedical ontologies, as well as the OmniViz data-visualization technology it gained in its acquisition of OmniViz earlier this year [Bioinform 02-02-07
“It’s not just about us using our software, [but using] the full range of software,” Gardner said.
He added that the company plans to more tightly integrate the OmniViz and Sofia products — as well as the SRS software it acquired from Lion Bioscience last year — and hinted that the firm may re-brand its product line to better reflect the integrated offering.
GSK is using BioWisdom’s Sofia KnowledgeScan service, in which the Sofia platform develops the so-called intelligence networks. The service has applications in helping customers identify biomarkers for efficacy, modify clinical trial designs, select biological targets, and identify in-license opportunities, among other capabilities, according to the company.
Renting vs. Owning
Gardner told Bioinform that the deal is an example of a larger phenomenon among its pharma customers to opt for pilot services agreements rather than license its software for internal use.
“We as a business have three lines we can go down,” explained Gardner. “We have our software business, so we can sell customers licenses; we can install it [the software] onsite and have them operate it. We also do the same with content because obviously with doing all these projects you can imagine we have some pretty high-value content we’ve created even from publicly accessible sources.
“But the particular example of the project we’re talking about is services-based, and that’s where people are asking us to operate software on their behalf,” he said.
Gardner estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of BioWisdom’s customers buy Sofia to implement throughout the enterprise. However, the GSK deal, slated to last between three and four months, is emblematic of the majority of deals the company is currently doing with such clients, he said.
Building a Brand
In the GSK pilot project, BioWisdom will be implementing OmniViz as well as Sofia KnowledgeScan.
Gardner said the real “core differentiator” between BioWisom and other software providers in this space is its ability to bring information together in a streamlined fashion — a capability that may become more finely ingrained in the public’s mind if and when the company chooses to merge its three platforms, which include SRS, OmniViz, and Sofia.
“We certainly have well-advanced plans to integrate the products we have; I would include SRS with that,” Gardner said. “There is a lot of cross-capability you will see from us coming out in the next few months which will give enhancements to the three product lines.”
“We are focused on the branding of Sofia. The real core differentiator for us as a business is our ability to bring information together; to be able to use all the different strands of information at our disposal. The two products [Sofia and OmniViz] are actually very complementary.”
Sofia and OmniViz “work very closely hand in hand,” Gardner said. “In fact, you may actually see us changing the name of our KnowledgeScan to reflect that [now that we are at the stage of] post-acquisition.”
BioWisdom would not disclose details of the agreement with GSK, but Nicola Day, director of healthcare intelligence services at BioWisdom, described how a typical pilot services project works.
“Normally, I come in at the beginning of the project to talk to the scientists to find out what their scientific issues are,” she said. “And then based around that, I analyze and come up with some findings, some hypotheses to bring back to the client.”
Asked if GSK will use Sofia for ontology building, Gardner said that the short answer is that BioWisdom really doesn’t know.
According to Gardner, “if [a pharma customer has] a business issue they want to address, often [Day’s] report will do the job. If it is … a therapeutic area team or a science-based team, they may not want to reuse that. It tends to be the more IT-focused projects that are looking to build a reusable substrate that want to use the ontologies we build.”
The customer, though, always has the last word. “They have the insights into the business issue, and they can guide the questions we need to answer. They can take those initial answers and ask the next question, but we’re the experts in actually operating it,” Gardner said.
While it’s too early to tell whether GSK will continue using Sofia KnowledgeScan after the pilot project, Gardner said that “in many cases, our customers pretty much go one of two ways: they will either get repeat service projects from us or they say, ‘Well actually this is pretty good and you’ve proved the value of the technology. We now think it’s worth us investing in [it], to bring in-house and learn how you actually go about doing these things.’”