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Buying Competitor LabLife, BioData Expands Lab Management Software Footprint, Gains US Presence


By Uduak Grace Thomas

BioData, a provider of a web-based research management service, said this week that it has acquired all the assets of LabLife Software, a competing firm with an offering similar to its own, for an undisclosed amount.

Tel Aviv, Israel-based BioData sells a subscription-based online laboratory and research management service called BioKM, a software-as-a-service tool that acts as a lab's knowledge repository. LabLife, based in Cambridge, Mass., has a similar offering but follows an ad-supported model that enables it to provide these services at no cost to customers.

Under the terms of the agreement, LabLife's customers will continue to receive the same services that they currently do for free with the option to upgrade to BioKM's paid service if they want, Jonathan Gross, BioData's co-CEO and founder, told BioInform.

He added that BioData's new clients will also continue to receive support for the LabLife service and access to the tools they need for their research.

With the acquisition, BioData is also opening a new office in Boston, Mass., giving the company a presence in the US market. The new site is staffed by a sales manager who will work with clients looking to switch from the LabLife platform to BioKM.

The company plans to hire additional sales and support staff for its new location this year, adding to its current headcount of 15 employees. Gross said that none of LabLife's management team will join BioData as they currently work for Addgene, LabLife's parent company. The remaining employees have all left the firm, he said.

Competitors No Longer

BioData was founded in 2007 with the goal of providing a system that addressed the challenges of running a research lab, Gross told BioInform.

The company is one of three firms in which Macmillan Publishers' new business, Digital Science, took an equity stake last year (BI 10/12/2010).

BioData's BioKM platform provides a flexible, web-based laboratory and research management service for scientists, principal investigators, and lab managers. According to the company, the application enables both small and large research groups to stay organized without relying on expensive, rigid enterprise software systems.

Among its capabilities, BioKM has a project module that provides tools to track projects, research milestones, and accompanying experiments. The platform also includes a linking system that connects related project content — such as which genes, primers, plasmids, reagents, and samples were used in an experiment.

Gross said that BioKM provides "not just logistics and information about where everything is stored" but a platform for organizing research information that lets users "see all the milestones, all the experiments, and all the research projects in the lab and drill down to the results ... and then tie that with logistics."

This ability to maintain a project's context by connecting research materials and supporting processes is the "primary difference between what we have and what others provide," Gross said.

The company primarily competes with vendors of laboratory information management systems, but Gross noted that BioData's focus is "largely on academic users, who have particular needs and currently don't use LIMS."

BioData is also relying on its link to Macmillan's Digital Science to help it "provide a better service" than its competitors — both through improved customer service as well as through collaborations with other Digital Science businesses, which include SureChem, a chemical text-mining firm, and Symplectic, which offers software for integrating published research with other information.

LabLife, meantime, was founded in February 2009 as a spinoff from Addgene, a non-profit organization that maintains a plasmid repository for discovery and research use.

While LabLife developed and operated the lab-management service, Addgene continued to serve as its majority owner and developed applications for the platform, including a database of 4,000 vector backbones culled from published literature and commercial groups.

LabLife opted to pursue an advertising-based model that would allow it to offer the service for free. This model allowed it to quickly expand its customer base to more than 1,800 labs from 1,200 institutions.

LabLife's free online tools allow users to coordinate lab purchasing, manage inventory, centralize files, and analyze data as well as share information through private lab workspaces and public community webpages.

BioData's relationship with LabLife began when a member of the company's team purchased a BioKM subscription. That led to discussions about possible collaborations and ways though which both groups could complement each other's efforts — all of which eventually led to LabLife's sale, Gross said.

Both companies target academic scientists, principal investigators, and lab managers in small to medium-sized academic labs, although BioData does have a few commercial customers in its kitty, Gross said.

The difference between the two, he explained, lies in their business models. While BioData chose to make its money from subscription fees, LabLife opted to stay afloat by allowing vendors to advertise their products on its site.

Under its current pricing scheme, Biodata customers have their pick of several plans. The smallest option is priced at $85 per month and supports 40 active projects with 10 researchers per account. A basic plan costs $140 per month with 100 projects and 20 researchers per account.

Larger labs might go for BioData's premium plan, which costs $220 and handles 300 projects with 40 researchers per account; or the maximum plan, which costs $320 and handles 750 projects with 90 researchers per account.

BioData isn’t changing LabLife's mode of operation, Gross said

"We all know what happened with [Life Technologies'] Vector NTI and how academia responded to that," he said, referring to Life Tech's 2008 decision to start charging academic researchers for its formerly free Vector NTI software — a move that ultimately benefitted competing software companies such as DNAStar, SoftGenetics, and CLC Bio (BI 2/20/2009).

"We are not trying to ... repeat those mistakes," Gross said. Academics "are willing to pay for [services] and if you provide them with a price point that is reasonable … then they will pay for it."

"There is a lot of investment associated with setting up a lab," he continued, noting that this includes everything from buying the right equipment to more practical considerations such as ensuring that lab members still have access to research data and results after a scientist leaves the lab.

As a result, the actual cost of establishing a lab quite often outstrips the initial investment "That’s where we step in and ... provide them the value," he said.

Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioInform? Contact the editor at uthomas [at] genomeweb [.] com

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