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Incyte Hopes for Slice of Data Integration Pie with Genomics Knowledge Platform Launch

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Integration may prove to be the key to genomics success, and Incyte Genomics is hoping that its latest product will get it through potential customers’ doors and expand its presence at existing ones.

In first-quarter 2001, Incyte is scheduled to release its new data integration architecture, the Genomics Knowledge Platform, which it designed along with IBM.

Incyte will join companies such as InforMax, Genomica, and Lion Bioscience, which have all been on the rampage, touting their tools’ ability to integrate data. Last week Lion Bioscience made a deal with Celera Genomics to jointly develop its SRS platform and market its Scout product line (see above story).

But Stephen Lincoln, Incyte’s vice president for bioinformatics research and development, said that in-house development teams would provide most of the competition for Incyte’s software, which will be designed to handle genomic and proteomic data.

According to Incyte, the platform will enable researchers to integrate and analyze gene sequence, expression, polymorphism, and proteomic data, as well as functional data. Lincoln said this would help scientists better identify and characterize potential drug targets, disease susceptibility, drug toxicity and efficacy, and individual response to medication.

So far, Incyte’s customers have been mum about the new platform although it may be too early for them to know much about it. Executives at Incyte customers Eli Lilly and Biogen declined to comment about whether they were planning to subscribe to Incyte’s new product.

In comparing the eventual Incyte product to existing products, Lincoln said the company’s platform would be broader than Lion’s SRS, which Lincoln described as a data querying environment.

In addition to querying, Lincoln said Incyte’s platform would manage different versions of databases, data relationships, distributed data, read/write access issues, and backup and recovery.

Lincoln rejected the notion that his pitch constituted “vaporware “ marketing, since Incyte has some of the software running at its facilities and has already designed the coming product.

“We’re getting the story out early, “ he said.

Christian Marcazzo, Lion’s director of product marketing for life science informatics, however said that seeing is believing, adding that Incyte would likely have a lot of work to do to turn the platform into a real product even after it has all the desired functionality.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to turn that into something that someone else can install, run, and use on their own hardware, configuration, and data. The hardest part of writing software is that release engineering, “ said Marcazzo.

Marcazzo also disputed Lincoln’s description of SRS as only a query tool. In Lion’s view, SRS is an integration system that lets researchers conduct cross-database queries and explore data as an integrated set of information about biology rather than a simple collection of databases.

Lion has also developed applications such as BioScout for genome annotation, GenomeScout for comparative genomics, and ArrayScout for microarray data analysis, that sit on top of SRS. Incyte will have to address these areas, too, said Marcazzo.

Lincoln said that since Incyte announced in September its plans to develop the platform, it has been able to get commitments from development partners and customers to become early adopters.

IBM is providing its DiscoveryLink database technology, which enables heterogeneous data sources to be integrated, and Secant Technologies is providing middleware that will allow distributed objects to talk to relational and object-relational databases. Spotfire is also working with Incyte as a partner.

The platform will be both a shrink-wrapped software product and a development environment where additional functions can be added, said Lincoln. The new offering is based on technology that Incyte is using to build the next version of its database product line , which until now has relied on Oracle data warehouse software.

Incyte is basing the platform on its Biological Object Model technology, which enables the linking and sharing of information about biological functions and interactions. The company has designed the platform to be able to integrate all science-based information types, including chemical, clinical, and post-marketing data as well as genomic data.

The first release’s content will include a view of non-redundant human full-length genes linked to the human genome, which will be joined with functional information. Incyte said that the product’s content will include comparative genomic capabilities with animal models, anatomical gene expression profiles, gene-centric polymorphism information, detailed annotation, and access to full-length reagents.

—Matthew Dougherty

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