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D Trends, Chinese Groups Partner to Form Bioinformatics Joint Venture, DragonTrends

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SAN RAMON, Calif.--D'Trends, a bioinformatics software vendor here, has formed a genomics joint venture with several partners in China, including Haike Biotechnology, Haizhu High Tech Park Investment, and Zhongshan University. The new company, DragonTrends, will be a way for D'Trends to tap the bioinformatics market in China, while its partners in China get access to D'Trends technology and business knowledge, said a DragonTrends official. Terms of the joint venture were not disclosed.

DragonTrends plans to assist research-based biotechnology and pharmaceutical institutions' efforts to discover, develop, and market medicines, Hwa Lim, president and CEO of D'Trends and a DragonTrends principal,

told BioInform. The company also expects to cooperate with the research-based environment and agriscience sector to improve agricultural yields, he added. Initial projects will include creating a laboratory information management system and custom analysis tools to be used in China.

Since late January DragonTrends has been providing Chinese customers proprietary databases and software tools for analyzing data and simplifying the discovery process. Over time, the company plans to expand its product line to include devices and diversify its services by adding more lab work. The company also expects to increase research and development in both computational and lab work. The business may invest in other organizations, too, Lim said.

Marketing for DragonTrends will be done by Haike Biotechnology in China and by D'Trends in the rest of the world, said Lim. DragonTrends plans to market its products to research institutions and biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in China. The joint venture is based in Guangzhou, China, and has a US office here.

Besides offering distribution channels in China, the Chinese partners will provide partial funding and human resources. D'Trends, which will contribute knowledge and experience, will not provide any initial funding. This is an unusual feature, since joint ventures often rely on Western partners to supply sizable initial capital, said Lim.

Lim's partner in DragonTrends is Anlong Xu, professor and chairman of the biochemistry department at Zhongshan University, where bioinformatics research is partially subsidized by China's Ministry of Science and Technology and by the municipal governments of Guangzhou and Shenzen.

Lim expects more companies to invest in the venture after representatives from D'Trends visit China this month. He said D'Trends has "substantial equity" in DragonTrends, but declined to specify how much. Staff at D'Trends and the Chinese counterpart organizations will visit each other regularly, Lim said, adding that researchers and students from China will work at D'Trends' office here for extended periods on a rotation basis.

As with any international joint venture, there may be some hurdles to leap. However, Lim believes the DragonTrends partners have enough in common to overcome cultural differences between the US and China, in part because the two principals, Lim and Xu, both earned their doctorates in the US.

Although Lim said there is no difference between bioinformatics software tools needs in China and in the US, difficulty using them may arise from China's network infrastructure. Because China's networks are not as sophisticated as those in the US, said Lim, sharing information could be more challenging there.

--Matthew Dougherty

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