Invitrogen plans to extend the reach of its current informatics capabilities, with new product lines most likely in systems biology and proteomics, Michael Stapleton, the new general manager and vice president of Invitrogen’s bioinformatics business, told BioInform last week. Stapleton, who joined the company just over six weeks ago, said that new tools in these areas would be developed either through internal R&D, partnerships, or — in line with Invitrogen’s broader strategy — through acquisitions. “You might see something over the next few years more around alliances and licensing in,” he said, “but where you need to leverage skill sets internally, you either hire or you buy, so I would expect to see acquisitions as part of the game.”
Stapleton joins Invitrogen after more than a decade at Pharmacopeia subsidiary Accelrys, where he oversaw a fair bit of acquisition activity within the informatics sector. As COO of Accelrys, he helped integrate the firm into a cohesive unit after a spate of M&A in which it picked up Molecular Simulations, Oxford Molecular, Genetics Computer Group, Synopsys Scientific Systems, and Synomics.
Even as his former employer readies for a new life as a standalone software company following the spin-off of Pharmacopeia’s drug discovery unit PPD by the end of the month [BioInform 01-26-04], Stapleton said he has his doubts about the pure-play software model for informatics, and sees Invitrogen’s strategy — which will marry informatics with the company’s traditional wet lab products — as a “unique opportunity” in today’s market.
In December, Invitrogen CEO Greg Lucier echoed Stapleton’s views on software sales, remarking at the company’s annual guidance meeting in New York that the software it picked up from its acquisition of InforMax the previous year was “not a strong business area” for the company. However, he added, the InforMax acquisition was still valuable because informatics “is becoming more of a capability within the company.”
By hiring Stapleton to head up an informatics effort that extends well beyond the InforMax subsidiary, it appears that Lucier is committed to informatics, even if the payoff isn’t evident in the company’s bottom line. “It’s a very fair and accurate observation to say that out of a billion dollars of revenue we are a small percentage, Stapleton said, “but I believe our strategic value will be much greater than is solely measured in terms of a fraction of total revenue. But, to be honest, that’s the nature of software.”
In addition to Stapleton, Invitrogen has hired Vivien Bonazzi, previously director of product development at Celera Genomics, to serve as director of bioinformatics R&D. Stapleton estimated that there are around 100 employees dedicated to informatics company-wide at Invitrogen now, with R&D activities split between the company’s Carlsbad, Calif., headquarters and the Frederick, Md., InforMax office.
Stapleton said that Invitrogen’s bioinformatics strategy “has four legs” — selling traditional software via the InforMax business; enhancing other Invitrogen technologies via improved informatics tools; building an e-commerce portal that integrates analysis tools with catalog sales; and IT consulting services geared toward large pharmaceutical companies. Stapleton said that he and Bonazzi were brought on board “to exploit all four business opportunities.”
One of the most promising of those opportunities, according to Stapleton, is the company’s plan to build an e-commerce platform around a suite of online informatics tools. The phrase “bioinformatics portal” may conjure up the failures of DoubleTwist and Entigen, but recent history has actually been a bit kinder to the concept. Oligo companies, for example, have found that better web-based bioinformatics tools can give them an edge over their rivals in the highly competitive RNAi market [BioInform 02-02-04]. Meanwhile, Applied Biosystems has reported increased usage of its Assays-on-Demand and Assays-by Design services since it began offering them through a web-based portal in 2002.
Unlike previous bioinformatics portals, which tended to limit their offerings to data and software tools whose commercial value quickly plummeted, Invitrogen is envisioning a website built around tools that the company has already proven it can sell, Stapleton said, with bioinformatics adding a bit of extra value to draw users to the site. “This is a very real, go-to-market e-commerce strategy,” he said. “It’s not founded on any fluff or dot-com rubbish. Invitrogen does a huge amount of transactions through traditional methods of sale … and we believe there’s a huge benefit to really focus that through a new generation of science-based e-commerce.”
The portal, Stapleton added, should be a selling point as the company looks to build out its base of partners in the informatics market. Noting that the sector is “dominated by tons and tons of small startup companies that have some unique IP and no channel,” Stapleton said that Invitrogen’s goal to eventually drive the bulk of its business through its website could also serve as “a very efficient channel for all kinds of other technologies — from your two-man startup company in San Diego to 500 people sitting in Europe, we’re going to be a very efficient partner to bring new technologies rapidly to market.”
Stapleton did not provide any details on when the company plans to roll out its bioinformatics-enabled e-commerce platform.