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InforMax Gets $4 Million VC Investment; Software Suite Hits 10,000-Users Mark

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ROCKVILLE, Md.--InforMax has just closed its first round of financing, having received $4 million from FBR Technology Venture Partners of Arlington, Va. The money will be used for expansion and software development purposes, said Alex Titomirov, InforMax's CEO and chairman.

InforMax provides software tools to the pharmaceutical industry for in silico drug discovery, as well as business solutions, said Titomirov, who founded the company in 1990. Its two main products are Vector NTI Suite, an integrated set of software tools for desktop sequence analysis, and Software Solutions for BioMedicine, a client/server enterprise bioinformatics package for which an upgrade, SSBM 2.0, has just been launched.

The capital infusion will enable the company to increase its current staff of 85, including about 50 software developers, by perhaps as many as 20 to 30 within four to six months. "We're expanding tremendously our sales and marketing operation, as well as development," Titomirov said. There are no immediate plans to open more offices; the vendor already has operations in Boston, Denver, South San Francisco, Bonn, Paris, and Oxford, UK, in addition to its headquarters here.

Hooks Johnston, managing director of FBR, said the firm decided to invest in InforMax because of its position in the bioinformatics field, based on the success of Vector NTI, SSBM, and the quantity and quality of current customers.

"They clearly have a leadership position in the market as it exists today, and they've got the right engineering strategy to be, by far and away, the dominant player in this market in the very near term--not two or three years out, but this year," he said. After nine years of existence, "they're not a promise; they're a reality," he added.

FBR is a $50 million venture capital fund that invests in electronic commerce, telecommunications, and internet/intranet software and services. The fund, an affiliate of the Friedman, Billings, Ramsey investment bank, concentrates primarily, but not exclusively, on the growing technology region around Washington.

InforMax marked FBR's first foray into bioinformatics. Johnston said his firm knew there was a big potential market, but was at first put off by its own lack of expertise in computational biology. InforMax's business turned out to be a good fit, however, for FBR's knowledge of specialty enterprise software companies, he said. Besides, InforMax didn't need bioinformatics advice, it needed funding and guidance in "how to take its early success and translate it into a much bigger company," he added. With its experience building and running enterprise software companies, Johnston said one thing FBR plans to do is to help raise InforMax's profile.

Separately, InforMax also announced that it now has 10,000-plus users for Vector NTI, including more than 60 pharmaceutical companies, 250 biotechnology firms, and 250 universities. "Now we intend to expand the customer relationships that we have built through Vector NTI Suite into comprehensive relationships focused on the problem of increasing overall R&D productivity," said Titomirov. "We will enable major process change using our enterprise product, SSBM." The company has also released a version of Vector NTI Suite for the Apple Macintosh platform.

Frank White, bioinformatics scientist at Berlex Biosciences of Richmond, Calif., said he chose InforMax because of its leadership in providing tools that enhance the productivity of the bench scientist. "I see the same development advantage in their enterprise product, SSBM," he added.

According to Titomirov, many of InforMax's pharmaceutical and biotech clients want to avoid relying on the web to search for and compare data due to security concerns. SSBM allows companies to put both public and proprietary databases on their servers. Then, through a Sun Microsystems Java-based interface, employees can access the applications, thus creating a "safe, secure environment." SSBM has application programming interfaces, which enable other applications and databases to be linked to the InforMax framework. InforMax's desktop and enterprise offerings can service a range of users from individual researchers up to hundreds of researchers, said Titomirov.

--Matthew Dougherty

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