Are we facing a new wave of genomics databases? Celera isn’t the only company betting on a resurgence in demand for value-added genomic information. Genomix, a small bioinformatics firm based in Oak Ridge, Tenn., recently launched a new version of its GenePool resource that “adds a new dimension to our view of the human genome,” according to company president George Maalouf.
Genomix was founded in 1999 by Oak Ridge National Laboratory computational biologist Ed Uberbacher to commercialize a suite of tools developed for the public Genome Annotation Consortium. Genomix’s proprietary technology, called EXP6, is based on the Grail gene prediction algorithm that Uberbacher developed at ORNL in 1990. While varieties of Grail-based annotation tools are available in other commercial packages as well as the public domain, EXP6 is “at least three generations ahead of competing technologies” said Maalouf, and has been used to catalog and map over 100,000 splice isoforms on the human genome.
Armed with EXP6, the ten-person company went to work restructuring the GenePool database that it originally launched in 2000, incorporating splice isoform and tissue expression data. The new version, GenePool 2.0, was released in early January.
As proof of EXP6’s ability, Maalouf cited 16 patents the company has filed on “novel genes that have been sitting there that no one has discovered.” In one case, EXP6 determined that the contig had been misassembled in GenBank. “We reassembled the contig, took all the EST and protein information, and pulled out a completely novel tumor necrosis factor receptor,” Maalouf said.
With the market for commercial genomic databases effectively declared dead — or at least terminally ill — around a year ago, won’t Genomix be fighting an uphill battle to lure subscribers? On the contrary, Maalouf said, “It’s a very good market with the following caveats: Don’t ask for milestones; don’t ask for royalties; just ask for an annual license fee.” Noting that pharmaceutical companies have been hurt by royalty stacking from their growing ranks of biotech partners, Maalouf is confident that a no-fuss sales approach will win favor among potential customers: “They pay us for a one-year subscription. When the subscription runs out, the customer can chose to renew. Based upon the value provided, we are confident they will."
Maalouf did not disclose pricing information for the database.