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Genomica s Software Resurrected as First Life Science Offering for Financial IT Firm

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Visualize Inc. is now the proud owner of Genomica’s software assets.

Visualize, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based data visualization software company that serves the financial services industry, said the software it purchased from Exelixis is the first of a full suite of tools it plans to market through its newly minted life sciences group.

Janice Kurth, formerly vice president of genomics at Pharsight, joined Visualize to head up the new business unit. Kurth is no stranger to the ups and downs of the genomics and bioinformatics markets. She oversaw development of a bioinformatics product at Pharsight that never made it to market due to “revenue problems” following the company’s IPO, and said she’s aware of the challenges ahead for Visualize as it enters a sector that many market analysts have all but written off, in which it has no experience, marketing a product that Genomica was unable to sell the first time around.

Visualize decided to enter the life science market last year, when it realized that the data visualization technology it developed for its financial services clients could also be applied to large biological data sets. The company was already in discussions to integrate its visualization tools with Genomica’s Discovery Manager software before Exelixis acquired Genomica in November. Although this work never crystallized prior to the acquisition, Genomica’s sale to a company that had no intentions of commercializing its software signaled a prime opportunity for Visualize to take the plunge into the field.

Financial terms of the purchase of Genomica’s software assets were not disclosed. Exelixis still holds a license to the software for its internal use and the two companies have an “arms-length, short-term revenue sharing agreement,” according to a Visualize statement. A “core team of engineers” and several business development staffers from Genomica have joined Visualize, although Kurth declined to elaborate on the number of new hires.

Now They Just Have to Sell It…

 With a fully developed offering 10 years in the making in its product portfolio, Visualize has the jump on other bioinformatics companies starting out “from scratch,” Kurth said. But the company will be selling the software in an even tougher environment than Genomica faced.

What makes Kurth think Visualize will succeed where Genomica couldn’t? “Genomica picked a very narrow market for their product,” she said. Instead of focusing only on statistical genetics and family studies, as Genomica did, “we see our market as being anyone in the laboratory doing a genetic research project.” Visualize also plans to add population genetics capabilities to the software, “and that is really where this product can be successful,” she added.

An MD/PhD with a background in human molecular and population genetics, Kurth led pharmacogenetics and clinical genetics teams at Sequana Therapeutics, Genset, and Phenogenex before joining Pharsight. This experience, Kurth said, demonstrated the importance of synthesizing data from genomics and proteomics research with clinical information, an area that she said has been “overlooked” in life sciences software. Analyzing data sets from both the clinic and the laboratory “is really the basis of what we’d like to do in the life sciences at Visualize,” she said.

The purchase of Genomica’s software is only the first step toward reaching that goal. Visualize won’t launch the product under its own name until it has added its visualization technology, with the first release expected in the second quarter of 2002.

Visualize is planning to offer a broad range of software tools beyond those developed by Genomica, but hasn’t yet “decided on the specifics” of what areas it will focus on next, Kurth said. One area that has been ruled out, however, is gene expression and microarray analysis, which she described as “probably the only area of life sciences that has any sophisticated level of visualization at this time.”

With visualization players such as Spotfire and OmniViz already claiming a hefty share of the life sciences market, Kurth acknowledged that Visualize will have some serious competition within its newly adopted field. However, she said, the company intends to set itself apart by merging its visualization tools with specific applications, rather than providing a “generic” visualization tool that works with a variety of data sets.

One advantage Visualize does have is an existing user base for Genomica’s Discovery Manager. Although some subscribers opted not to renew their licenses after the Exelixis buy-out, some are renewing through Visualize, Kurth said, and the company is also offering renewals that will be credited to the upcoming product. Other customers are taking a wait-and-see approach, but Kurth said she’s confident they’ll renew once the new visualization capabilities are added to the product.

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