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Lion to Add Data from Biobase, Xennex to SRS; Plans Launch of SRS 8.1 this Month

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Lion Bioscience last week announced two partnerships to extend the reach of its SRS integration platform into the commercial database realm. The company said it would work with Biobase to add its Transfac and BRENDA databases to SRS, and with Xennex to add its GeneCards database to the platform.

The integration with GeneCards is expected to be available in the next version of the system, SRS 8.1, which Lion plans to launch before the end of the month, CEO Thure Etzold told BioInform. Integration with Transfac and BRENDA will occur over “the next few months,” Etzold said, and will be made available to customers prior to the next formal release of SRS.

SRS has traditionally concentrated on integrating the hundreds of publicly available databases available to biological researchers — which is not surprising, given the preponderance of public-domain resources in the field. The agreements announced last week, however, signal a new phase in Lion’s integration strategy as it looks to extend SRS’s capabilities to commercial resources.

Lion has already integrated SRS with Incyte’s LifeSeq database (now marketed by Biobase) and Derwent’s patent database. But for the most part, Lion has written parsers for commercial databases only as part of customization deals for specific customers. Now, Etzold said, Lion plans to extend its partnership strategy to give all SRS users access to a range of commercial databases.

Etzold declined to provide details on other types of content the company may make available through SRS, but said that “there are several other providers on our radar screen.” He said that Lion has recently “rationalized” its development process to reduce the time it takes to integrate a new resource by a factor of five to 10. This improvement will support the company’s effort to extend the reach of databases available to SRS subscribers, he said.

Last week’s deals also signal a departure from some high-profile partnerships that Lion struck in the past, Etzold said — particularly as the company implements its plan to streamline its R&D and marketing activities to focus on SRS. “Previously we had strategic partnerships on a much higher level, and now we want to get to the bare bones of this business and do partnerships that make sense for our customers,” he said. “So the partnerships are a bit more simplified, and more customer-focused and less focused on how Lion wants to be perceived.”

Etzold didn’t specify any particular partners that may fall in that category, but it’s likely that Lion’s partnership with IBM — announced with much fanfare in 2001 — is on the list. Lion partnered with Big Blue to merge SRS with IBM’s own DiscoveryLink integration platform, but neither company has visibly benefited from the arrangement.

The partnerships with Biobase and Xennex may not have a short-term impact on Lion’s top line either, but Etzold said that any improvements to the system that could make prospective customers’ lives easier should ultimately boost sales of SRS. Researchers who subscribe to multiple commercial databases “still suffer from a lack of general integration,” he said, so interest in SRS should increase as the company extends the compatibility of the system.

From Genes to Pathways

Etzold said that both partnerships announced last week grew out of customer demand. GeneCards — developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and distributed by Xennex of Cambridge, Mass. — is a gene-centric resource of human genes and their encoded proteins that Etzold said is used “nearly everywhere.”

GeneCards is freely available to academic users through the Weizmann Institute, but Etzold said Lion had not yet created an SRS wrapper for the free version of the resource, so the deal with Xennex will be the first time SRS users will have access to any version of the database.

Biobase also offers a free version of its Transfac transcription factor database for academic users. Edgar Wingender, president and CEO of Biobase, said that an SRS parser was currently available for the resource, but only for a very old version — he estimated that it dated back to 1995. The company stopped updating parsers for the public-domain version when Biobase discovered that commercial users were using SRS to access the public version of the database, he said.

“Now we’re on our way to settle that,” Wingender said. The new deal with Lion will apply only to the professional version of Transfac, which contains data that the free version doesn’t.

Like Lion’s Etzold, Wingender said that the partnership grew out of customer demand. Transfac and BRENDA subscribers “frequently” requested integration with SRS, he said.

Wingender said that negotiations for the partnership began well before Biobase acquired the database assets from Incyte’s Proteome group in January [BioInform: 01-24-05]. Both he and Etzold noted that Biobase and Lion have already begun discussions about integrating Proteome’s BioKnowledge Library into SRS as well, but neither company provided a timeline for when that process may be accomplished.

— BT

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