Danish startup BlueSeq is preparing to launch an online business that matches academic and commercial sequencing-service providers with researchers looking to outsource their sequencing needs.
The company recently completed beta testing the platform and plans to officially launch it on May 5.
The web-based platform offers a project-design tool that asks a series of questions to help users plan and design their sequencing projects, and then matches them to sequencing providers based on the specific needs of each individual project.
The software-as-a-service platform is based on a series of proprietary algorithms, decision trees, and interdependency models, which the Aarhus-based firm built from the ground up, CEO Michael Heltzen told BioInform.
Clients request sequencing services by responding to a set of questions — what kind of organism they are working on, what sort of sequencing is required, the size of the organism's genome, and so on.
Based on a user's answers, the system selects relevant follow-up questions whose answers help it select what sequencing technology and protocols are optimal for each project or, in some cases, offers users a choice of technologies.
With this approach, “even though a [client can’t] say exactly what they need … [their] answers will give us precise knowledge about how a project can fulfill their needs,” Heltzen said.
Once a project is created, it is moved to the system's "exchange module," where it is matched to providers based on the parameters selected during the design phase.
Sequencing providers are only required to provide details about the instruments they have and when their platforms are available for use. When a project is entered into the system, BlueSeq e-mails the providers on behalf of the users. Providers can then make bids, which are sent back to the project designers who can either make a selection or continue to “fish” for the best deal.
The first version of its system is “relatively simple,” Heltzen said, though BlueSeq plans to make changes to it based on feedback it receives from customers.
In fact, based on feedback from its beta run, the company has already decided to implement additional parameters in the project-design side of the platform for future iterations of the tool.
For instance, with the current version, users needing their projects finished within a month will be able to select sequencing providers based only on the restricted time frame or prices listed by the providers.
In the future, clients will also be able to select services based on more specialized parameters, such as providers that are experienced in, say, ChIP-seq protocols, and can include these parameters in their requests.
Though bioinformatics analysis isn't part of the current package, "it is something we will look into" depending on customer demand for future versions of the platform, Heltzen said.
Project design is free for users, while sequencing providers pay a fee for successful bids. Prices start at 10 percent of the bid for smaller projects and fall to five percent on larger ones.
Heltzen explained that the smaller projects are charged a higher percentage "due to the relatively more time and service use on them."
The fee is used "to keep the portal neutral in regards to collecting and updating NGS knowledge overviews for both buyers and sellers of NGS service[s], developing more online tools, and upgrading the exchange as we go," he said.
BlueSeq also provides information on current sequencing technologies via a knowledgebank, and keeps customers up to date on the capabilities of each resource as they change.
The company will market the platform to customers who don’t have in-house machines and to genome centers that may own sequencers but need additional capacity.
On the provider side, Heltzen said BlueSeq has caught the eye of core facilities with intermittent excess capacity and groups with underused sequencers.
Although he could not give the names of specific groups, Heltzen said that 10 sequencing providers have already signed on with the company, and more than 20 others are in the process of signing up.
While BlueSeq is one of the pioneers of this kind of service, it does not appear to be the only one. BioInform's sister publication In Sequence reported this week that Findini, a German online service operated by Berlin-based Moosbaum, offers similar services.
According to the firm's website, researchers submit descriptions for microarray or next-generation sequencing projects and receive quotes from participating service providers (IS 04/26/2011).
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