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Despite Big Changes at the Top, Product Development Marches on at Lion

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HEIDELBERG, Germany — It’s been a rough year for Lion Bioscience

In January, its long-reigning CEO Friedrich von Bohlen resigned. Then, in June, the company’s high-profile collaboration with Bayer expired, and last week, Lion’s two co-CEOs and entire supervisory board stepped down.

But Thure Etzold, Lion’s newly appointed chief technology officer, said that the most recent changes in upper management won’t have any impact on the company’s product-development plans.

“With the changes this week, none of the development plans, none of the projects that we have, are affected in any way,” Etzold told BioInform. “They are all going ahead, and it’s business as usual as far as development is concerned.”

The board’s decision to resign was “completely disconnected” from Lion’s product-development strategy, Etzold said.

In fact, Lion’s main product-development priority over the next six to nine months will be improvements in usability in order to expand its reach beyond bioinformatics groups to end-user biologists, according to Werner Eberhardt, vice president of global marketing.

In the past, Eberhardt said, the company’s main customer base has been the bioinformatics and IT groups within companies, “but at the end of the day, that only carries you to a certain point” he said. “We want to bring the power of bioinformatics to the people who need it — to the people who are developing the drugs. It’s not enough to just bring them the tools.”

Earlier last week, prior to the announcement of the resignations, BioInform visited Lion’s Heidelberg headquarters to get an overview of some projects that the company has underway. Indeed, the company is now delivering on a streamlined product-development roadmap based on its core SRS integration technology that it first outlined in May [BioInform 05-10-04].

Eberhardt said that the next version of SRS, version 1.1, is due for release next spring. This version will include new text-mining capabilities from a collaboration with Temis that Lion announced in August [BioInform 08-09-04].

In addition, Eberhardt said another project — codenamed “the Wave” — is underway within Lion to further streamline access to the more than 1,100 databases integrated within SRS. Under this project, still in its very early stages, Eberhardt said that Lion is in discussions with members of EMBnet, a consortium of 41 European research groups, to create a “data backbone” that would deliver information to SRS through a web services framework. This would eliminate the requirement for biotech and pharmaceutical companies to replicate public databases behind their own firewalls, Eberhardt said.

The new system would provide secure, real-time access to the most recent version of public databases via the web. So far, Eberhardt said, six EMBnet nodes have agreed to help develop a prototype of the system that should be ready by mid-November.

In another project, in collaboration with Microsoft, Lion is developing a knowledge-management system called Activity Manager that is based on a system that Lion built for Bayer. Lion demonstrated a prototype of the system, which will be a professional services offering, at its most recent user group meeting, in Cambridge, Mass., in late September. Eberhardt said that based on feedback from the prototype, Lion is now developing a basic “framework” for the platform that will include the core “generic” technologies that will underlie the system.

Lion is also working on two projects funded by the European Commission’s FP6 funding framework: EMI-CD (European Modeling Initiative Combating Complex Diseases), a project to develop a publicly available software platform for molecular modeling; and SIMDAT, a project to develop grid computing technology for product development and production process design. Eberhardt said that Lion’s SRS will underlie both projects. In the case of EMI-CD, he said, “There’s been very much of a focus on modeling and simulation in the last two years, but more recently the focus has changed. The biggest challenge now is to get the data — you have to have access to the data before you can do the modeling,” he said.

— BT

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