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InforSense Secures $5M in Financing, Reshuffles Execs as it Nears Break-Even Point

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As it celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, InforSense has taken a number of steps to drive its long-term business and technological goals.

This week, the London-based provider of business and scientific intelligence software said that it had received a commitment for $5 million in financing and that company founder Yike Guo is stepping down as CEO to take on the role of chief technology officer and head of innovation.

David Bennett, who joined InforSense last January as executive vice president of worldwide sales, is the firm's new CEO effective immediately. John O'Connell, founder of software provider Staffware, which was acquired by Tibco in 2004, will continue as executive chairman of the company.

Bennett told BioInform this week that the privately held firm believes it can do business "on a break-even basis going forward or better." The company is retaining its life science and healthcare focus, he said.

The company will use the financing, which was from existing investors including the executive team, to support further development of its technology and infrastructure.

InforSense said in a statement that the commitment follows "consecutive record revenue quarters" that resulted in year-over-year growth of around 30 percent, but did not provide further financial details.

Bennett said that the revenue increase is the result of new agreements with two large pharmaceutical firms, which are very much "the fruits of what we've learned in the bigger academic research hospitals."

While he could not disclose the identity of the customers, Bennett said that both are "new customers to us and significant pilots of translational research inside big pharma."

A Decade of Spinning

Guo founded InforSense as an Imperial College London spinout in November 1999 to commercialize software that he had developed for large-scale data analysis and management.

Since then, he has been wearing two hats: as a full professor at Imperial College with expertise in areas such as distributed data mining systems and parallel data mining algorithms, and as CEO of InforSense. His new role at the company will enable him to focus on the company's technology, he said.

"We have made big progress in taking one of the UK's top technologies into a leading company in the field, [which is] particularly successful in life sciences and healthcare," he said. "It's progress I am very proud of."

Since it was founded, the firm has opened offices in China and Boston, and expanded its market reach into healthcare and "even beyond to the generic business intelligence field," he said.

But to continue this kind of growth, Guo noted that the company needs a "stronger push in technological innovation." The accelerated pace in the software market has motivated him to spend more time on technology development and help "move the company to its next stage," applying "outside-the-box thinking" to the industry and the company's future.

Over the last 10 years, the Internet has created a "huge change" in the business and research world going from a "communications tube" to "a computational platform," Guo said. The company's customer base has greatly changed as well, he said, pointing to the pharmaceutical industry, which, a decade ago did "everything in-house, from target discovery to the final drug."

Now, he said, " the industry has been transformed into [one] with virtual organizations," which requires that both technology and business models adapt.
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In order to focus on the "excellence of commercial operations," Guo said he has been putting in place "people from the industry with a strong track record, and [who] know how to operate a growing software business."

The firm currently has around 85 employees, and Bennett said that the company is hiring "selectively."

Guo said that Bennett has gained a thorough understanding of the firm since he joined last January to head worldwide sales and that he was part of the "succession plan."

Beyond Client-Server

Bennett noted that while the business intelligence market is "fairly fragmented," InforSense remains committed to providing "fast answers to quality questions in a complex world."

While the company originally delivered its solutions in a client-server environment, "what we're delivering today is a very web-centric solution for customers in the way they get their questions answered," Guo said.

Moving forward, he said, "We see the applications moving much more toward a cloud-platform type of a paradigm."

In the era of social networking, the market has moved beyond client-server, single computer solutions, and Guo noted that the pharmaceutical industry — with its collaborative environment, global virtualization, and functional distribution — is a particular example of this trend. Users log in via the web to find the information they need and do their computation, Guo said. "You don't know where computation actually happens," he said.

These trends that require more decentralized computational structures play into InforSense's fiscal goals, which Bennett said, are to "operate our business on a break-even basis going forward or better. We think we can do that now; we're in that position."

Bennett said that the new funding commitment is a "safety net" for "a rainy day or investment purposes to increase our flexibility." The aim, he said, "is not to use that except for strategic purposes."

The company's investors include Paris-based Elaia Partners, London-based Fleming Family and Partners and Noble Group, and Imperial Innovations, Imperial College's technology transfer, company incubation, and investment arm.

In terms of positioning for the economic downturn, Bennett explained that although InforSense is "vertically focused" in life sciences and healthcare, it is "not niched." The firm's reach spans from academic basic research to pharmaceutical target validation, pharmaceutical hit-to lead, into the clinical trials area, into advanced clinical research, clinical decision support, operational analytics, hospital pay-for-performance and billing applications, he said.

"We are delivering applications up and down that spectrum," he said.

Guo said that the firm expects government programs to stimulate the economy will increase public spending in research and healthcare.

Bennett conceded that InforSense "has seen some pressure in the core R&D areas, but we've seen growth through the translational research area." For example, a focus on pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics is "taking us into the clinical area," which adds to the firm's activities in translational research.

Bennett sees InforSense on an expansion course. "The growth is in biology, and specifically in the nexus between drug discovery, drug research, and the clinic," he said.

InforSense is working on several projects in the translational and personalized medicine area, which it entered in 2005 through a partnership with the Windber Research Institute [BioInform, May 9, 2005]. Last year, InforSense began a three-year collaboration with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to develop a translational research informatics infrastructure to give researchers access to both clinical and experimental data [BioInform, April 18, 2008].

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Staying Agile

BioSense, the firm's visual programming environment for bioinformatics tool and portal development, is "certainly a key product for us," Bennett said, but he noted that "biology is not isolated" in a world of heterogeneous data. "You can't warehouse biology," he said.

Translational research is the firm's "primary focus" he said, because InforSense's platforms are "very agile" and better able to deal much more readily with heterogeneous data, including images and second-generation sequence data, than "many of our competitors."

InforSense markets itself as a business intelligence firm, which is sometimes viewed skeptically in life sciences circles, but Guo said he doesn't see "reason for confusion" because the company is " talking about business intelligence in the broader sense," in which it's about "massively available information to get inside both business and intelligence … getting insight from science from scientific data."

In that sense, InforSense fits in a market space that includes SAP Business Objects, IBM's Cognos, as well as Accelrys' SciTegic Pipeline Pilot product, which Guo acknowledged is a competitor for InforSense.

Of late, Accelrys has also described itself as a business intelligence provider, and has been expanding into other industry sectors beyond life science research and drug discovery and development. [BioInform, May 9, 2008].

Bennett said that "the life sciences have been and will continue to be central in terms of our market focus."

Where InforSense's proposition differs from Accelrys, he said, is that "we do compete with others probably in a way that they don't, because of the broader nature of our technology."

Bennett added that InforSense views Accelrys as operating primarily "in one particular niche, which is chemistry applications."

The business intelligence marketplace is a large universe with "great planetary objects that are difficult to move," Bennett said, noting that customers have told him that "what they bought these big old business intelligence products for, no longer delivers what they asked when they invested in them, which is fast time to insight or fast time to answers."

"BI has become the new [enterprise resource planning system]; it's a legacy system," he said. "Very often it requires people to have a business data warehouse of some sort."

The challenge in pharma particularly and in a complex world in general, he said, is that "people haven't got time to put things in a data warehouse."

Bennett noted that that InforSense is not against a data warehouse, citing its partnership with Dana-Farber and Oracle as an example, he said that above the data warehouse level, "people need a level of agility, [and the] capability to work in a much more dynamic, heterogeneous, and frankly faster time-to-answers world."

To a certain extent, Bennett said, "the economy favors us, because things are much more dynamic in this environment."

Bennett said a pharmaceutical company customer he declined to name told him, "We've got 160 data warehouses in our organization today, and I still can't get answers to questions." Researchers need to scale-up existing processes and "that plays very much to InforSense's strengths."

Partnering All the Way

Bennet and Guo highlighted the firm's partnering strategy, which includes a program called PartnerSense that it launched last year to foster such links.

A recent academic partnership is with the UK's National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health and King's College London to propel development of diagnostic tools and personalized medicine treatments in mental health research.

The company is also participating in a program involving data grids for process and product development using numerical simulation and knowledge discovery or SIMDAT, a program funded by the European Commission with €13 million ($17 million) to test and enhance grid-based data technology for product development and production process design. In the course of a SIMDAT pilot project last fall, InforSense and GlaxoSmithKline completed a project on the virtual outsourcing of data analysis via secure grid computing and cloud computing infrastructure. [BioInform, Oct. 17, 2008]

InforSense is leading the pharma taskforce for this project, which "will lead to infrastructure implementation among the [20 industry] partners of the project," Guo said. "They're going to use it."

He added that these types of projects are not only an opportunity for InforSense to show its technology to potential customers, but a chance to "learn from industry about what they need."

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