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Christopher Ahlberg, Founder, CEO of Spotfire

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AT A GLANCE: Holds a PhD in computer science from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Received entrepreneur of the year award from Swedish Royal Academy of Engineering. Hobbies include kickboxing, snow-boarding, cooking, and reading.

Q Where will bioinformatics be in two years? Five years?

A In two years, the field of bioinformatics will be deep into discovering and exploiting the function of genes discovered as a result of the Human Genome Project. There will also be a continuing need to initiate the merging of bioinformatics and cheminformatics as the drug discovery process becomes more integrated and creates more of a demand to fail compounds earlier. In five years, bioinformatics will finally be taking advantage of single-nucleotide polymorphisms to deliver specific therapeutics and for drug rescue.

Q What are the biggest challenges the bioinformatics sector faces?

A Bioinformatics is continuously struggling to manage the increasing amounts of data generated by high-throughput expression methodologies. Across the industry, biotechnology improvements are outstripping our ability to effectively manage and analyze that data. An additional challenge is keeping our analyses approachable and relevant. As the data, and number of questions are increasing faster than the supply of skilled bioinformaticists, we must make approaches and software more accessible to other research scientists.

Q Who are your current customers?

A All of the major pharmaceutical companies use Spotfire products, as do over 120 biotech companies. Pfizer, Pharmacia, Lilly, Roche, and AstraZeneca all have worldwide licenses. Additionally, our customer base extends into the chemical process industries and discrete manufacturing.

Q Which companies do you have partnerships with?

A Spotfire has strategic partnerships with MDL, Affymetrix, Incyte Genomics, Molecular Dynamics, and AspenTech, among others.

Q What non-existing technology is number one on your customers’ wish list?

A Companies often feel that their number one need is for someone to come in and reconcile their data nightmare. While I agree that this is important, I think the need to increase the speed of analysis is actually the limiting step in the research process.

Q How large is your bioinformatics staff?

A Our pure bioinformatics staff is six, however we are supported by approximately 40 developers building the core products and platforms upon which our bioinformatics offerings are based.

Q Do you see yourself more as a software provider or as a consultant?

A We are definitely a software provider, although we are moving toward offering e-analytic applications via the Web. We do have an extensive professional services department that can help deploy and configure our products, as well as assist customers with extending our platform. However, our core business is based on software that is implemented and used with minimal configuration.

Q How much money have you raised so far?

A To date, Spotfire has raised $25 million in total financing. The Sprout Group led the third round of financing. Other investors include Atlas Venture, InnovationsKapital, Pequot Capital Management, Soros Fund Management, and Casdin Capital Partners.

Q Do you expect to see more M&A activity in the sector?

A Absolutely. I’m not sure if bioinformatics companies can exist as independent entities, but there are very few old and valuable bioinformatics companies.

Q What products do you have in the development pipeline?

A We are building increasingly more server side functionality to take advantage of the data warehouse and data integration initiatives in place at many of our customer sites.

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