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GeneBio s Melanie Software Replaces Nonlinear s Phoretix in Amersham s ImageMaster 2D System

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GeneBio has scored a software coup: In a collaboration announced last week with Amersham Biosciences, the company moved in to fill a position vacated by Nonlinear Dynamics, one of its competitors in the proteomics software sector.

The deal builds upon an agreement announced in January between Amersham and GeneBio to co-develop and distribute proteomics training software. Under the expanded partnership, Amersham has acquired exclusive rights to GeneBio’s Melanie (Medical ELectrophoresis ANalysis Interactive Expert) 2D gel analysis software, which it will integrate into its own ImageMaster 2D image analysis system. The new version of the integrated software, ImageMaster 5.0, will be released in the last quarter of 2003.

Nonlinear, meanwhile, has scaled back a distribution partnership with Amersham that involved nearly its complete line of proteomics software products. Nonlinear “has chosen not to renew its long-standing OEM agreement with Amersham Biosciences’ Proteomics Group for the 2D range of products,” explained James Sykes, Nonlinear’s group marketing manager, via e-mail. The agreement between the two firms, which entailed the integration of Nonlinear’s Phoretix and Progenesis software with Amersham’s ImageMaster 2D and Ettan products, respectively, expired in December 2002.

Sykes did not disclose the reasons behind Nonlinear’s decision not to renew the partnership, but noted that the companies are still collaborating in other product areas. “We are currently in discussion with other groups within Amersham regarding a renewed contract for the ImageMaster 1D and ImageMaster Array product ranges,” he said. Nonlinear also has an exclusive development and distribution agreement with Amersham for its ImageQuant TL image analysis software product. A “significant new release” of ImageQuant should be announced shortly, Sykes said.

An Amersham spokesperson was not available for comment.

Nonlinear’s decision to opt out of its 2D product contract turned out to be a lucky break for GeneBio, the commercial arm of the Swiss Bioinformatics Institute. “The collaboration with Amersham is a big deal for us,” said Alistair Blair-Davies, marketing manager at GeneBio. “We’re now collaborating on two products with them, so it’s a growing relationship…The hope is that it will be a close-knit, ongoing relationship with Amersham.”

The SIB, which developed Melanie and still holds the primary rights to the software, and GeneBio both stand to benefit from the “sheer size” of Amersham’s sales force, Blair-Davies said, along with the company’s visibility, experience, and market share in the 2D gel analysis sector. Blair-Davies did not disclose the financial terms of the three-way arrangement, but said that the “responsibility as well as the revenues” for Melanie would be shared between the three partners. In addition, he said, with Amersham solely responsible for all future sales of Melanie, “it frees up [our sales staff] to put more emphasis on other products.”

The potential sales boost should help GeneBio as it approaches a critical turning point. A large fraction of the company’s revenue stems from commercial licenses to SwissProt, which recently won part of a $15 million NIH grant to merge with Trembl and the Protein Information Resource under the name of UniProt [BioInform 10-28-02]. GeneBio’s current licensing contract for the database expires at the end of 2004, and it’s likely that NIH will require that it be freely available to all users at that time.

The terms of UniProt’s availability as of January 2005 are “still unclear,” Blair-Davies said, noting that even if the company does end up losing rights to sell the database, the year-and-a-half timeframe “is not an immediate threat.” However, he added, “There is concern for the company to be able to increase and improve its activity in other areas, and [the collaboration with Amersham] was one way of doing that with the Melanie software.”

Amersham’s exclusive license to Melanie does present one challenge for GeneBio, Blair-Davies said: “The name Melanie will cease to exist” once it is absorbed into ImageMaster, he noted, “so it’s very important for us to make clear to our customers that Melanie will live on technically in ImageMaster.” In order to ease customers onto the new product, users of Melanie 4, which was released in March, will receive a free upgrade to ImageMaster 5 and two years’ technical support, while customers for Melanie 3 will receive a discount on ImageMaster 5, he said. In addition, while GeneBio offered a two-tiered pricing model for academic and commercial customers, ImageMaster will only be available for a “fixed price, somewhere between the two.”

Nonlinear also intends to provide a smooth transition for customers who purchased its 2D gel analysis software through Amersham. The company is “committed to the continued update and support of all our software licenses, regardless of the brand under which they were sold,” said Sykes. “As such, all ImageMaster 2D customers will still be eligible to any Nonlinear offers which we may run in the future.”

— BT

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