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India's Persistent Systems Hopes Deal With Indiana U Will Bolster Its Bioinformatics Services


Persistent Systems, an IT services firm headquartered in Pune, India, is partnering with Indiana University's School of Informatics to ramp up its life sciences domain expertise.

Persistent last week announced that it is partnering with IU to create the Persistent Indiana Research Center on the university's Bloomington campus. The goal of the center is to develop software applications for local life-science companies.

The new center is expected to help the firm "significantly increase" its life-science domain capability, Aditya Phatak, director of the company's life science technology solutions group, told BioInform.

Persistent was founded in 1990 and currently has around 4,000 employees worldwide. The firm offers a broad range of IT services, with life sciences contributing "to around 12 to 15 percent of the size of the company, both in terms of the number of employees and revenue," Phatak said.

Persistent generated a total of $85 million in revenue for fiscal year 2008*, which ended March 31, 2008, placing its life-science revenue between $10 million and $12.8 million for that period.

Persistent's current life-science activities include developing software to acquire, analyze, integrate, and visualize data from a variety of high-throughput instrumentation such as mass spectrometers, sequencers, and microarrays. The partnership with IU is expected to help the firm expand these capabilities — particularly within the area of second-generation sequencing.

High-throughput sequencing is one of IU's active areas of research and also one of Persistent's "key focus areas," Phatak said.

Access to "top" faculty members at IU, as well as post-doctoral fellows and students with domain expertise in the company's areas of interest, will help Persistent develop "innovative software applications" in biomedical and translational research, he said.

Phatak said that IU appealed to Persistent because of the interdisciplinary approach at its School of Informatics, which spans computer science, bioinformatics, and cheminformatics. In addition, he said it keeps a "close association" with the IU School of Medicine.

Anand Deshpande, president and CEO of Persistent Systems, is also an alumnus of the IU School of Informatics — a relationship that has led to earlier collaborative research projects with IU faculty, Phatak said.

Phatak added that Indiana has a "robust" life-science industry, with a number of pharma, biotech, and CRO firms. "It completely makes sense to be closer to that region and have our research facility there," he said.

The partnership "demonstrates our ongoing commitment to the life-sciences industry," Deshpande said in a statement. He added that Persistent plans to work with IU students and faculty "to more effectively serve private-sector customers, and help further academia's role in supporting the marketplace."

Phatak said that for external customers, the new center will offer software development services as "work-for-hire." Other software or IP that is developed might belong to IU and be commercialized by Persistent, while Persistent and IU researchers might "come up with new research activity" and apply for grants together to "develop some useful IP," Phatak said.

Financial details of the partnership were not disclosed.

Focus on Sequencing

Through the new center, the university will offer Persistent access to new technology, such as high-throughput sequencers. Phatak said that Persistent already works with some sequencing vendors to develop software for "primary and secondary analysis," but declined to name the manufacturers.

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He said that the firm's activity in this space involves developing software for primary analysis, generating the short reads, and performing the secondary analysis step of read alignment, and added that the company is looking to expand its capabilities in "tertiary analysis" such as SNP identification.

IU scientists are currently using data from a Roche 454 sequencer to evaluate the ability of Persistent's software to perform tertiary analyses on transcriptomes, Phatak said. He added that the IU alliance could lead to more work for Persistent in tertiary sequence analysis.

"There will be research angles to look for better algorithms, faster algorithms, better data management," he said. "It will be some software development with respect to linking [data] with annotations [and] visualizations" to work with these "huge datasets."

Persistent's past activity in bioinformatics and clinical informatics includes designing data marts, warehousing, and analytics for microarrays, sequencing, and proteomics. The firm also works to integrate client software with third-party or open-source analytical tools such as R, SAS, Bioconductor, Matlab, and others.

For the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid program, Persistent offers support and training for caTissue, caBIG's biorepository-management program. The firm also offers services such as local customization and legacy data migration [BioInform, April 3, 2009].

Happy to Partner

The Persistent Indiana Research Center will be one of the first tenants in the Bloomington Incubator, which is slated to be completed in July with 46,000 square feet of space for startups in the life sciences.

Robert Schnabel, dean of IU's School of Informatics, said that interaction between IU and companies is "greatly beneficial to the school" because it will foster collaboration.

That collaboration is "about the proximity and the people — having our faculty and graduate students working on projects with the people from Persistent," Schnabel told BioInform in an e-mail. "An integral part of being a thriving IT school is to have these types of partnerships."

Phatak is currently based in Persistent's San Jose, Calif., office. He said he initially plans to connect with IU faculty members and hire students as interns, and the center "will evolve" based on those relationships.

Persistent has not yet finalized how much space it will rent in the incubator, he said.

*Editor's note: The company reported revenues in US currency of $105 million for fiscal 2008. The discrepancy between that number and the figure reported above is due to currency fluctuations over the last year.