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Holger Karas, CEO of Biobase

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AT A GLANCE: Holds a diploma in chemistry from the University of Braunschweig. Co-developer of the Transfec database, co-founder of Biobase. Enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters, playing “Magic the Gathering,” and collecting comic books.

QWhere will bioinformatics be in two years? Five years?

ABioinformatics is the primary challenge of this decade since it is the only technology that can help us really understand the genome.

QWhat are the biggest challenges the bioinformatics sector faces?

AFrom our perspective, the biggest challenge for bioinformatics is the modeling of gene regulatory networks to understand the transition from genomics to proteomics. Gene regulation is the real key to understanding biology and will drive pharmaceutical research to new medicines for the future.

QWho are your current customers and partners?

AOur primary focus is the pharmaceutical industry as well as the biotech industry. We have already captured 40 various customers and partners, including GlaxoSmithKline, Berlex, Aventis, Takeda, Yamanouchi, Celera, Exelixis, and Clontech.

QHow large is your bioinformatics staff?

AWe currently employ 42 people in total. Out of them 20 work in database annotation and 14 are in product development. The growth of Biobase in its first year after our venture capital round was tremendous and will go on for 2001 as well.

QDo you see yourself more as a software provider or as a consultant?

ANeither as a software provider nor as a consultant. Our primary focus is providing content or knowledge. We fit together all the bits and pieces from research to build the big picture. This picture gets clearer with every single piece and will lead to understanding of the biology, sooner or later.

QWhat is the company’s annual revenue? Are you profitable?

AWe are not far away from being profitable, but our growth from five to 42 people of course needs to be compensated by sales. But certainly the line of profitability is already in sight.

QWhere does the company’s financing come from?

ABiobase was founded in 1997 with private funds from the founders, as well as their friends and families. In 1999 we decided to go for growth and received venture capital from an institutional German investor, the IMH in Hanover. The total investment was 2.5 million euro, which equaled at that time approximately $2.5 million.

QDo you expect to see more M&A activity in the sector?

AThere will be definitely more M&A activity; it already started last year with the acquisition of Proteome by Incyte, Neomorphic by Affymetrix, and so on. This is not because bioinformatics companies cannot survive as independent entities; it is just a lot of synergy in combining efforts. I believe that companies like InforMax or Lion can grow fast enough to get the critical mass for survival. But many technologies are way too specialized for sustained growth and M&A would be a great opportunity for these companies to develop their visions.

QWhat products do you have in the development pipeline?

AOur key product in the pipeline is a comprehensive analysis system, database driven, for gene expression data, which is modeled close to biological systems. It will integrate all capabilities from transcription control and signaling pathways to explain the patterns of gene expression.

QWhat made you decide to become a bioinformaticist?

AGood question. By education I’m a chemist, and graduated in immunology. By my pending PhD in bioinformatics in the group of E. Wingender, I found my way to this field, and E. Wingender is the key founder of Biobase.

The decision was triggered by several factors. I’m not a good lab worker. Computers kept my interest at that time and the whole field of gene regulation was and is a real challenge.

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