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Incyte Sells GKP Technology to Secant, Envisions Industry-Wide Collaboration

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Incyte Genomics’ Frank Russo said the company is seeking to emulate the way “Sun spun out Java” to successfully make it an industry standard by licensing its Genomics Knowledge Platform (GKP) technology to Secant Technologies.

Russo described GKP as a “framework to bring different data types and applications to one place,” and the first comprehensive solution to the industry’s data integration problems. While the platform was initially envisioned as a tool for Incyte’s internal data integration needs, Russo said the company “soon realized it had value beyond what we could do ourselves with it.”

After considering its options, which included developing and marketing GKP on its own or through a potential spin-off company, Incyte decided to license the technology to a software company in order to maintain its own focus on genomics. Secant, which had collaborated with Incyte and IBM on the platform for almost two years, won the license, beating out several other bidders, according to Secant president Jim Holt.

Under the terms of the agreement, Incyte will continue to market the GKP along with Incyte’s genomic content to its existing customer base and other potential customers in the life science community, while Secant holds an exclusive license to further develop and market the GKP to customers in the life sciences and other industries. The companies will also collaborate on professional services and support offerings for GKP customers. The two companies will share revenue, depending upon who sells the platform. Incyte will also make an equity investment of an undisclosed amount in Secant.

The deal presents Secant with the opportunity to secure some life science customers beyond Incyte, its first and only partner in the market so far. Since Incyte already has several beta and pilot projects for GKP in place, Secant CTO and founder John Pompeii said he’s fairly confident the company will have around a dozen GKP customers by the end of the year.

However, both Pompeii and Holt stressed that they don’t plan to expand this portion of their business too quickly. “We’re following a constrained growth model,” said Holt, noting that Secant will continue to rely on Incyte’s biology domain expertise while its software engineers focus on technology milestones that were part of the original partnership.

Secant contributed its Extreme application server to the GKP project, which serves as one layer of the three-tiered architecture. It sits on top of IBM’s DiscoveryLink, which pulls disparate relational and non-relational data sources into a single relational view. Secant’s technology serves as a mapping layer between the relational data layer and the object-oriented layer of the applications that sit at the top of the architecture.

Russo said various applications could be plugged into the system and run with any type of data, eliminating the information “silos” that result from software that is written to access, analyze, and present only one type of data. Russo said that Incyte and Secant plan to collaborate with content providers as well as application providers in order to make the continued expansion of the system “a community effort.”

Secant expects to spend the next few months mapping public data sources to the platform and lining up potential collaboration partners. Application and content providers who sign on as collaborators could also serve as potential GKP sales channels, Holt said.

While other companies are offering data integration tools — such as Lion Bioscience’s SRS platform and NetGenics’ Discovery- Center, which is also built upon IBM’s DiscoveryLink — Holt said that GKP is the first “enterprise-class integration tool” and the first attempt at a biological object model, which Incyte developed to represent all the data in the GKP framework. Russo explained that the GKP Unified Biological Object Model represents biological information in terms of objects and relationships. The model is broad, Russo said, allowing applications built on top of GKP to have access to all data sources that have been mapped onto the framework.

This broad model should attract application and content providers who would otherwise be competing with Incyte — such as DoubleTwist, Spotfire, Celera, and others — to join a consortium that Secant and Incyte envision evolving around future development of the GKP. Holt said the potential of such a consortium, and the conflict of interest it would have presented had Incyte decided to sell the technology on its own, spurred Incyte’s decision to license the technology to a pure-play IT company.

Pompeii said that Secant and Incyte are still in discussions with IBM regarding the terms of their partnership under the new agreement.

An IBM spokeswoman said the original IBM/Incyte licensing agreement for DiscoveryLink is still valid and the two companies will continue working together.

— BT

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