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Eyeing Clinical Market, Annai Systems, ThoughtWorks Prep Oncology Data Interpretation Service

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Bioinformatics firm Annai Systems has partnered with IT consultancy ThoughtWorks to develop a software system that extracts pertinent information from individuals’ molecular data and integrates it with information from the scientific literature and public databases to help clinicians select better treatments and therapies for their patients.

The partners plan to offer the system, dubbed the MedTrust Evidence Engine, as a service to members of the clinical oncology community starting next year, Dan Maltbie, Annai's chief technology officer, told BioInform in a recent interview.

Currently, Annai and ThoughtWorks are providing an early version of the MedTrust-E2 service free of charge for the Clearity Foundation — a not-for-profit organization that helps ovarian cancer patients make more informed treatment decisions by providing personalized diagnostic information. The partners are using MedTrust-E2 to integrate and interpret data from several resources, including the foundation's internal repository of tumor profiles.

“[W]e are analyzing evidence from lots of different publications, combining that with data from several different databases, and based on that, we are giving … an interpretation of specific genomic data, which puts treatment options into the right context,” Ola Bini, a software developer at ThoughtWorks, explained to BioInform this week.

For each patient, the foundation receives a report “with the genomic levels of between 20 and 30 different markers and some of the treatment options that have proven to be viable in the presence or absence of those specific markers,” he said. The system also takes in outcomes information, which it uses to improve its interpretation and analysis capabilities, he said.

With the new system, "Clearity can now more efficiently create tumor profiles for our patients and identify personalized treatment options," Deborah Zajchowski, Clearity's scientific director, said in statement.

Going Clinical

Los Gatos, Calif.-based Annai develops and commercializes high-performance network solutions for genomic research and medicine.

The company first entered the genomics market on the research side of things by inking a deal with the University of California, Santa Cruz, to provide a network operating system that enables the transfer and management of data contained in UCSC’s BI 5/4/2012).

“We started in the research realm because we wanted to develop technologies and expertise in the basic components,” but “we were ultimately targeting how to get into the clinical side,” Annai’s Maltbie said.

In June, Annai purchased MedTrust Online — an online interactive community of more than 10,000 oncologists — as part of its efforts to build an end-to-end, network infrastructure to support the flow of genomic data and knowledge between individuals and communities in research and medicine (BI 6/01/2012).

“What we saw in MedTrust was the establishment of [a] community of oncologists and access to being able to understand their interests, capabilities, and limitations and ultimately, how do you take something like this to market and deliver a service,” Maltbie explained to BioInform.

The acquisition gave “us insights into deployment into the clinical world and allows us to understand … the best methods, approaches, and kinds of information and kinds of workflows that these oncologists are engaged in to deliver a service,” he said.

Although MedTrust-E2 shares the MedTrust name, the technologies and capabilities that comprise the software are novel, Maltbie said, explaining that Annai “used MedTrust as a brand to associate with the clinical side of things.”

Annai does have software development capabilities internally, however the company chose to partner with ThoughtWorks so that it could “experiment more with skills and people to build the right mix for a successful project,” Maltbie said.

“As a startup it is sometimes a challenge to acquire all of the unique skills required for a particular project in the necessary timeframe,” he explained. “Thoughtworks provided us with engineers that have a broad range of skills” as well as “personnel when we needed them.”

That “saved us a lot of time and effort in recruiting which was particularly helpful when we did not need a particular skill set full time or for a long period. When you hire someone, you are locked in to their skills and personality,” he added.

Maltbie could not disclose details about pricing for the service.

The partners will initially target patient advocacy groups and oncologists. Oncology is a “complex marketplace," he noted, "and trying to satisfy the variables of how to get the right information, how to meet regulatory requirements, how to get payors to reimburse … all of those things create a very challenging environment.”

He said that the partners plan to use MedTrust-E2 "as an opportunity to contact and connect with the oncology community.”

Although Clearity’s version of the system was designed to work for ovarian cancer, Annai expects the MedTrust system to be useful in other types of cancers and disease areas where genomic information is being used, such as Alzheimers.

“Clearity is a good environment for us to test and learn how the [MedTrust-E2] system works” but “everything we build is designed around fairly generic services” and “our goal is to expand this and to offer this service on a wider basis,” Maltbie said.

For now, he said, “the cancer market itself is a big enough challenge and [there is] a big enough opportunity for right now for us to focus and make sure that we are successful there.”

As for ThoughtWorks, the partnership marks the company’s first foray into the genomics space, Bini told BioInform.

However, the company, which handled the software development for MedTrust-E2, has dabbled in the healthcare IT market during its nearly 20-year existence, helping to develop hospital-based systems and working on OpenMRS, an open source community project that enables the design of customized medical records systems.

Now that ThoughtWorks has tested the genomics waters, the company intends to dive further in, Bini said.

“Its apparent that there are a lot of very exciting things happening in the industry right now and its also apparent that software development has to be really important so we hope that we will be able to continue moving in this direction,” he said.

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