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Google Competitor Targets Life Science Market With Specialized PubMed Search Technology

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Competition in the search technology market is heating up in anticipation of Google’s IPO later this year, with Yahoo!, Microsoft, and a host of startups hawking alternative technologies that challenge Google’s dominance. But Vivisimo, a search technology spin-off of Carnegie Mellon University, is taking a slightly different tack from its search rivals by targeting the life science research market.

Last week, Vivisimo launched ClusterMed, an offshoot of its core technology that was modified to organize results from PubMed searches. The software uses the same Clustering Engine technology that powers Vivisimo’s web-based search engine (www.vivisimo.com), which automatically groups search results into hierarchical folders that are inferred on-the-fly from words and phrases in the search results themselves. The folders are listed in a frame on the left side of the screen, and users can click on the categories to narrow their search, viewing the contents of each folder in the main frame. For ClusterMed, Vivisimo modified this core technology to send a query to PubMed’s own search engine, and the software then organizes the returned results in the same folder-based format. Rather than providing a “one-dimensional” list of thousands of hits, articles are clustered by similarity using MeSH terms, titles, authors, or abstracts.

PubMed is “a great search engine,” said Raul Valdes-Perez, president and co-founder of Vivisimo. “The problem is that people get too much back, and it’s ranked chronologically.” Valdes-Perez said that the company first became aware of the potential of its technology for PubMed searches after it began working with pharmaceutical customers interested in using the Clustering Engine to search their in-house documents, records, and publications. Soon afterwards, Vivisimo began seeing interest from a number of scientific journals, Valdes-Perez said, “and a light bulb went off.”

The company has released a free demonstration version of ClusterMed at http://www.clustermed.info that returns and organizes the top 100 results for a PubMed search. The commercial version of the software, which is installed behind a company firewall and can be integrated with in-house documents, is capable of clustering 5,000 PubMed hits at a time.

Valdes-Perez said that a company-wide license for the software would be in the “low five figures” for most biotechs and in the “high five figures” for larger companies.

Vivisimo was launched in 2000, and Valdes-Perez said the firm is profitable. The company currently gets “many millions” of searches per month on its web-based search engine and also licenses its technology to other companies in the web search industry, as well as to the corporate IT market, the government, and the publishing industry.

Now, the 20-person firm has singled out the life science market as its next area of attack. ClusterMed is Vivisimo’s first product targeted to a specific vertical industry, Valdes-Perez said. In addition, the company recently hired healthcare informatics veteran Donald Taylor as senior director of life science solutions — a newly created position, and Vivisimo’s only vertically focused management position. “Basically half our company is working at least part of the time on targeting life sciences, because it’s such an important market,” Valdes-Perez said.

Taylor said that the company has already sold several ClusterMed licenses to early adopters, including “large enterprise customers with thousands of users,” and sees the life sciences as “an explosive market” for the product, which is expected to serve as an entrée to the company’s other technology offerings. One tool, for example, called Content Integrator, permits users to tap into multiple sources of information, cluster them, and combine those results within a single view with ClusterMed results. Taylor said that a large pharmaceutical firm is currently using that approach to integrate and organize search results from more than 30 sources.

One thing the company has yet to sort out is its approach to the academic user community. The free version of ClusterMed online only provides access to 100 articles, so the company is weighing its options for creating an affordable version for academic customers with additional capability. A subscription-based ASP model is one possibility, Valdes-Perez said, but the company hasn’t ruled out keeping a free version available online indefinitely.

— BT

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