GE Healthcare announced this week that it has signed a data-integration agreement with GlaxoSmithKline — the first informatics deal that the company has announced since its acquisition of Amersham Biosciences in April, and the first large pharmaceutical client that GE Healthcare’s informatics business has disclosed.
Under the terms of the agreement, GE Healthcare and GeneticXchange will collaborate with GSK to integrate internal and external data from the company’s genetics, discovery, and pre-clinical development R&D groups.
GSK has taken a perpetual license to the DiscoveryHub data integration software developed by GeneticXchange and marketed by GE Healthcare, and has agreed to work with the two firms to develop the next version of the DiscoveryHub technology.
Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Nick Giannasi, head of informatics solutions at GE Healthcare, said that the GSK deal is just one example of a turnaround that the company is seeing in the informatics marketplace as companies move away from home-grown integration systems in favor of commercial solutions. “It’s an example of how the industry — big pharma in particular — is now moving toward taking active steps with a commercial provider to integrate these data sets and provide this variety of very complex data to their scientists,” Giannasi told BioInform. He said that GSK is not GE Healthcare’s first pharmaceutical client, although it is the first that the company has been able to disclose for this offering.
Giannasi added that the agreement follows a period in which GE Healthcare has “solidified” its post-acquisition informatics strategy. This strategy, he said, is to “enable informed decision-making within drug-discovery verticals, and … to deliver that through the traditional IT parlance of a stacked solution.”
This solution comprises three tiers, he said: a data acquisition and storage layer, provided by the Scierra Laboratory Workflow System that GE Healthcare developed in collaboration with Cimarron Software; a data integration layer, provided by DiscoveryHub; and an application layer, comprising GE Healthcare’s software, third-party tools, and in-house applications.
In addition, Giannasi said, GE Healthcare has reworked its longer-term informatics strategy to encompass the capabilities that came from both the Amersham and GE informatics teams. The former Amersham informatics group — which falls within the Discovery Systems unit of GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences — will continue to focus on the discovery end of the pharmaceutical pipeline, Giannasi said, while leaving clinical data acquisition and management and other downstream informatics tasks to the IT groups that came from GE.
Currently, he said, “we stop at the pre-clinical area,” but he added that the company plans to take a step-wise path to “move from discovery toward [clinical applications], and in the future link up with our colleagues in the clinical area.”
GE Healthcare’s discovery informatics R&D is already getting a boost from GE Global Research, Giannasi added. “The Discovery Systems research organization has already been integrated with that technology organization, and specifically, for discovery informatics, we have a number of very interesting technologies, ideas, and experience there, which are having a positive impact on some of our development projects,” he said.
Giannasi was not able to disclose the size of the current informatics staff at GE Healthcare, and the company declined to break out its informatics revenues. He stressed, however, that the company views informatics as an “opportunity for growth.”
Addressing Pharma’s Integration Woes
Most pharmaceutical firms have opted to build their own data integration solutions in the past — a strategy that has worked well for other industries, like banking, finance, and oil and gas. But these methods have been difficult to apply to drug discovery, Giannasi said, due to the “nested data” in discovery coupled with the sheer volume of information in the pharmaceutical industry.
As a result, “in-house solutions are ending up being a support and maintenance problem,” Giannasi said. “A number of pharma companies have identified this and have decided to concentrate on their activities in drug discovery and farm out or outsource the integration and support of that to a third-party or commercial vendor.”
One advantage that GE Healthcare has over its competitors, Giannasi said, is the open nature of its integration technology. The system supports data from GE Healthcare’s data-producing technology, such as its CodeLink microarrays, as well as from competitors, like Affymetrix. “We’re open and have connections to other data sources,” he said. “The world has a lot of information, and not all of it has to come from GE Healthcare.”
Giannasi said that GE Healthcare will work closely with GSK to improve the DiscoveryHub integration technology and “make it as robust and scalable and easy to use in terms of flexibility as possible.”