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Christos Hatzis, Vice President, Technology, Silico Insights

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AT A GLANCE : PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota. Co-founder of Silico Insights and responsible for technology directions. Prior to Silico Insights, deployed expert system and information mining technologies for Monsanto. Hobbies include ancient civilizations, travel, and photography.

QWhere will bioinformatics be in two years? Five years?

AWe are living in one of the most exciting scientific times with the recent publication of the human genome. With biology becoming an information science, bioinformatics will evolve from being perceived as an extension of computer science applications in biology, to a true enabler of science and drug development. Systems biology and mathematical approaches will dominate post-genome thinking and guide our efforts to discover and characterize novel functional pathways.

Longer-term, in post-genomic drug development, companies with the speed and technology to process and make sense of large volumes of information are likely to have an edge in not only significantly influencing but also initiating and directing drug development.

QWhat are the biggest challenges the bioinformatics sector faces?

ABioinformatics is still a young industry and both technology and business issues have to be sorted out. Technologically — being able to integrate analysis seamlessly across a company’s IT network — to deliver time savings and usable information is critical. On the business front, we, as an industry, have to be conscious of the real information bottlenecks and ultimately deliver value-based solutions to the scientific community.

QWhat do you see as the next step for bioinformatics to address beyond genome sequencing?

ABioinformatics, and particularly post-genome informatics, is built on the premise of integrating diverse information on complex biological systems, which to a large degree is antithetical to the scientific practice of specialization. Bioinformatics approaches and tools will have to quickly shift focus from an understanding at the molecular level to understanding of networks of interacting molecules, and eventually of entire cells and organisms.

To put it another way, if biological data have to turn into drugs, informatics has to focus on detailing relationships and pathways for drug discovery. Ultimately, to achieve higher predictability and for bioinformatics to be successful, integrating information pieces along the drug development pipeline to build composite behavioral profiles of drugs and drug classes has to be the goal. Silico Insights is built on a post-genomics informatics philosophy.

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

AThe absence of an organization-wide analytical infrastructure. We find that more companies, particularly pharmaceutical and large biotech, are asking themselves, "What are we managing data for?" They want to extract all the value they can from their information and plan ahead for gathering and storing data towards the ultimate goal of increasing their organization’s inherent business value.

QDo you see yourself more as a software provider or as a consultant?

AIn many ways the two are intertwined. We offer a family of products that deliver automation of analysis, advanced analytical techniques to extract all trends and patterns, and a way to create continuously a repository of integrated results from ongoing analyses. Services help us customize for specific needs, provide direct support, and reach smaller companies with more modest needs and means.

QDo you expect to see more M&A activity in the bioinformatics sector?

AThat’s not an easy question but an important one. Many still believe that bioinformatics remains unproven as an independent industry and that M&A activity will integrate these companies into drug development. Some of that is bound to happen — it is the nature of an emerging industry. However, this sector also questioned the long-term existence of biotechnology companies a few decades ago.

Other information-intensive sectors such as consumer products, insurance, and financial have produced multi-billion dollar companies involved in data management and business intelligence. If we agree that information is key to this sector, the outcome shouldn’t be any different.

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