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Lion Offspring Phase-it Puts Solutions Before Software in Data Mining Business


Although many data mining companies are competing for customers in the life sciences these days, newcomers are still confident they will find their own niche — but not always with tools alone. In a recent example of the expanding field, Phase-it Intelligent Solutions, a data mining company founded in Heidelberg, Germany, in late 2000, entered a service partnership with Mice & More. Over the coming months, Phase-it will work with the Hamburg-based transgenic mouse startup to integrate and analyze mass spectrometry, histopathology, and genotypic and phenotypic data from a breast cancer mouse model in order to develop new diagnostic tools.

Though it’s Phase-it’s first go at proteomics data, “they are quite experienced in this kind of analysis of tumor material, especially from a biological point of view,” commented Christine Schulze-Garg, co-founder and managing partner of Mice & More. This is precisely what Phase-it sees as its competitive edge: Founded by two former Lion Bioscience employees and two researchers from the German Cancer Research Institute (DKFZ), the company said it understands both the biological and the IT dimensions of a customer’s project. “We don’t need an interpreter to talk to each other, we understand the ‘native biologist’s’ language,” said Peter Wiesner, Phase-it’s CEO and a former vice president as well as the seventh employee at Lion. This, he believes, is crucial: “We have seen several corporations fail because the scientists could not really communicate with the IT people efficiently.”

According to Wiesner, Phase-it does not mainly distinguish itself by its algorithms but by the way it links them in analysis processes to create classifiers that can answer a customer’s question. It uses a large number of supervised and unsupervised machine-learning methods such as support vector machines, self-organizing maps, artificial neural networks, and Bayesian approaches. Some of these algorithms are publicly available, Wiesner said, others were custom-designed or modified by Phase-it. “We are not attempting to become a tool company like most of the other data mining companies,” he said.

Phase-it’s hope is to turn service partnerships like the one with Mice & More into more integrated collaborations that include downstream rights to inventions or product revenues. “We are a young company, new on the market, so of course we have to first demonstrate what we claim that we are capable of,” explained Wiesner. In fact, a successful feasibility study with DKFZ, the University of Ulm, and Boehringer Ingelheim encouraged the founding of the company. Wiesner said that several other pilot projects are on their way, including a toxicogenomics project with an undisclosed large pharmaceutical company.

Phase-it, which currently has 12 employees, is funded privately and through a research grant from the German government, but is looking into a larger project involving tumor markers that would require raising more money, most probably venture capital. Lion, it seems, is in no danger of being eaten by its roaring cub: “Our business is so completely different,” said Wiesner, since it focuses on solutions for specific projects rather than providing IT infrastructure. But his former employer remains an inspiration: “The success story of Lion really motivated us to try it ourselves.”

— JK

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