CHICAGO (GenomeWeb) – When ScaleMatrix, OnRamp Bioinformatics, and Cloudian decided to get together in an effort to speed up sequencing analysis and lower the cost of data storage, they saw several shortcomings in the genomic informatics market.
Storage may be affordable for other IT applications, but genomic datasets are massive. They are also complex, perhaps too much so for purely cloud-based technologies. And, perhaps most importantly, there simply are not enough trained bioinformaticians to support the demand for genomics-based research, according to executives from the three companies.
This week, ScaleMatrix, operator of a life sciences incubator and data center in San Diego, announced a three-way partnership with San Diego-based genomic informatics vendor OnRamp Bioinformatics and cloud storage company Cloudian, of San Mateo, California.
The trio of companies is looking to improve efficiency in data analysis by combining their technologies and the ScaleMatrix facility, Cloudian Chief Marketing Officer Jon Toor said.
The 14,000-square-foot ScaleMatrix campus houses a data center and a CLIA-certified genomics laboratory. It also serves as a business incubator and co-working facility for startups in bioinformatics and genetics. That opened in January to serve the burgeoning bioinformatics, molecular analytics, and genetics industries in Southern California.
But the combined offerings are for genomics operations of all sizes and in all locations, company executives suggested.
Tim Wesselman, CEO of OnRamp Bioinformatics, said that there are perhaps 15,000 bioinformaticians worldwide today, to support more than 2 million biologists and researchers.
"They are heavily bottlenecked for the genomics industry to grow and scale," Wesselman said. "We can't crank them out fast enough from universities. [Researchers] need tools and solutions that speak their language."
Wesselman, a former strategy leader of Hewlett Packard's hyperscale infrastructure group, said that research centers OnRamp works with have expressed confusion about genomic and proteomic data that might help unlock mysteries of certain pediatric cancers. "They contacted us and said, 'We don't know what to do with this data. We don't even know what it is.' They had done beautifully designed experiments, but the data they got back was unintelligible to them," he said.
The new OnRamp-Cloudian-ScaleMatrix partnership aims to take some of the load off the bioinformatics community.
"The bioinformaticians need to spend their time developing new algorithms, new applications, new techniques, serving as the pioneers, not trying to do high-volume, commodity analyses, whether it's for a cancer research center or for a [drug] discovery effort. Those bioinformaticians need to continue to work on the hard problems," Wesselman said.
Specifically, OnRamp software is designed to simplify analysis of genomic data. ScaleMatrix provides high-performance computing power — as well as sequencing services at its genomics lab — while Cloudian offers flexible storage options.
ScaleMatrix has had a partnership with Cloudian for a year and a half. "We're now launching their service in a much larger way," said Chris Orlando, co-founder of ScaleMatrix.
"If you put together a very high-efficiency, high-density data center, an affordable workplace, a genomics lab that is CLIA-certified, and the tools and capabilities that OnRamp brings together, we've [created a] cradle-to-grave solution where someone can have an idea, run tests and development against it, prove a concept, show their work product, manage data," Orlando explained.
"Before, all of those things were somewhat difficult to do and very difficult to scale. The three of us are working to bring those things together in one location and make them very, very simple to get at," Orlando said. "What we're trying to accomplish is a big task, trying to make the overall launch of ideas and the engagement with all these new molecular and bioinformatics processes simpler. That's not an easy thing to do."
The partners believe their data and pricing models set them apart from competitors.
"What's out on the market today is complex in many ways and has scale and pricing challenges that I don't think will scale as this exponential data problem gets bigger and bigger," Orlando said.
"The price needs to come down exponentially as we start talking exascale, as we start getting into these massive amounts of data," Orlando continued. "We're aimed at driving those costs down significantly in very large volume."
Cloudian "tiers" data for storage according to how often users are likely to need certain elements of large files such as genome analyses. This enables the other partners to store frequently used data locally but have full datasets available in the cloud when necessary.
"You don't want to move most of this massive amount of data most of the time," Jean Lozach, chief technology officer of OnRamp, said. Users might want to have ready access to a list of genes or a pathway for future experiments, for example, while keeping raw data from whole-genome sequences on a remote server.
The partnership is pricing services per sample, "all in," according to Wesselman, so customers will not be billed separately for compute time, analytics services, and storage costs.
"That's all brought together into the analysis. They don't need to know any bioinformatics. That's already taken care of within the system," Wesselman said. "Once they set up the experiment and upload the data, we automatically know how the data should be processed to answer the biological questions that they ask in the beginning, which makes a big difference when not catering to the bioinformatician as many of the competing platforms do, but instead catering to the biologist and researcher," he added.
"They're able to get more of a persistent, longitudinal value to that data. Every experiment is connected to the follow-up experiments, and to be able to do downstream comparisons against prior analyses adds a lot of value to the biologist and researcher."