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Gene-IT Weighs its Options as it Seeks to Enter US Market and Accelerate Growth

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With nine customers in Europe since its launch in 1998, Gene-IT, based near Paris, France, is ready to launch an aggressive campaign to target the US market. But Jean-Jacques Codani, CEO of Gene-IT, said the company is still “exploring its options” for the best way to do so.

Codani said Gene-IT is considering partnering with a US company as well as forming strategic alliances with American universities in order to gain entry into the market. Another option is to open a US office. While the company has already signed a deal with DuPont of Wilmington, Del., and has several prospective US customers in the pipeline, Codani said a physical presence in the US would support the science-based approach the company takes with its customers.

“We don’t want to be the bioinformatics salesman of the week showing up at customers’ doors,” Codani said.

Gene-IT’s flagship product, LASSAP, requires a bit of education on the part of the customer, said Henk Heus, director of bioinformatics applications. He said Gene-IT’s approach is similar to that of GCG’s in its focus on being “a technology company, not a marketing company.” Thus, a full scientific team in the US would be preferable to a few sales representatives, Heus said.

LASSAP is a large-scale sequence comparison tool that is capable of comparing entire sequence databases. It uses a set of classical sequence comparison algorithms, such as Blast, Smith-Waterman, and Needleman-Wunsch, that have been optimized and scaled by Gene-IT to work on parallel systems. These algorithms, as well as others proprietary to Gene-IT, use the same sequence database format as the database management and query system. Because the output from each algorithm is unified, the results can be queried, stored, and analyzed in a streamlined manner, Codani said.

Codani said the system offers similar performance to dedicated bioinformatics hardware accelerators, but also provides the software flexibility that dedicated boxes lack.

Gene-IT currently has LASSAP software contracts with BioMérieux, DuPont, Genoscope, Infobiogen, Organon, and the Pasteur Institute. In addition, Gene-IT outsources its LASSAP-based bioinformatics infrastructure to Derwent and Servier Labs and is involved in scientific collaboration programs with the European Bioinformatics Institute and the French Myopathy Association/French National Center for Scientific Research. Codani said that a subsidiary of a large agricultural company has recently signed on for a trial license.

Codani said Gene-IT’s short-term plans include increasing its sales to large biotech and pharmaceutical customers. In the mid-term, the company will scale up its business model to meet the needs of an estimated 2,000 potential licensees among smaller biotechs and labs.

The company hopes to have a substantial US presence in place by 2002. “We’re confident if we move intelligently we can sell in this market,” said Codani.

— BT

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