They say that politics makes strange bedfellows, but it looks like data integration may also abide by that axiom: In a surprising turnaround, Lion Bioscience shifted from outspoken criticism of IBMs DiscoveryLink integration middleware to last week''s announcement that it is partnering with Big Blue to develop and co-market a combined DiscoveryLink/SRS integration product.
Although Lion CEO Friedrich von Bolen told BioInform in April that there is nothing that is new, novel, intelligent, or interesting, about the DiscoveryLink technology, six grueling months of negotiations between the companies seems to have changed his mind and resulted in a deal that offers significant advantages to both parties. DiscoveryLink will broaden the capabilities of SRS while IBMs marketing power will certainly boost sales. Meanwhile, IBM has squelched its primary competitor in the life sciences data integration market while gaining validation for DiscoveryLinks life science capabilities through Lions endorsement.
Carol Kovac, IBM''s general manager of IBM Life Sciences, called the partnership one of the most significant relationships that we''ve done in the last year.
The alliance, under which Lion will write a wrapper to allow users to connect SRS to DiscoveryLink, will be particularly crucial to Lion as it looks toward collaborating with more large pharmaceutical companies. Pharma has been reluctant to enter deals with bioinformatics companies who offer standalone products that arent backed by broader IT support, von Bohlen said. But this deal, he said, quells the concerns of both companies who may have doubted IBMs scientific credibility and critics who say Lion may not have enough experience on the computing side.
Pharmas tendency to tackle its integration challenges with in-house solutions is changing, according to von Bohlen. The newly allied IBM/Lion team, which merges IBMs formidable IT experience with Lions scientific domain knowledge, is likely to open more doors for Lion in the pharmaceutical sector. Furthermore, the combined integration solution will be applicable beyond the biosequence resources at the core of SRS to the full spectrum of data that large organizations require to span the drug discovery and development pipeline.
Kovac said an extensive technology assessment phase was crucial to overcoming Lions initial reluctance to partner with IBM. Although the six-month process had its rough spots, both Kovac and von Bohlen described the process as a positive one.
In the end, both of us saw that we each have a common view of the [integration] problem, that we were each solving a different part of the problem, and if we put them together wed be much more powerful than if we were standing alone and trying to compete against one another in the marketplace, said Kovac.
Rudy Potenzone, Lion''s US CEO, acknowledged that a better understanding of the differences between the technologies helped seal the partnership. Lion had already been considering its alternatives for extending the capabilities of SRS beyond bioinformatics databases into the broader set of information required for drug discovery. It would have been possible to expand SRS and its tool set, but what we found with DiscoveryLink is that its available today and we can tie SRS into it to give access to all the other data sources that we need access to.
While there is slight overlap between the products, Potenzone said the strength of SRS is in its ability to draw information from the flat files that contain the bulk of biological information. Discovery-Link can do a limited amount of raw querying, but it doesnt have the capabilities of SRS in terms of understanding the types of data and the types of questions that the scientist would like to ask.
On the other hand, SRS does have some limited capability for searching relational databases, but doesnt have DiscoveryLinks sophistication on connecting the various data sources that might reside in relational systems, said Potenzone.
A new Lion product that links the two technologies is expected to be available in mid-2002. Both Lion and IBM will market the tool and share revenue from sales. Additionally, the companies will collaborate on consulting and integration services for combined IBM/Lion hardware and software offerings.
Lion will use IBM hardware in its Heidelberg drug discovery showcase to demonstrate the capabilities of its offerings, but von Bohlen stressed that Lion''s partnership with IBM is non-exclusive and the company still plans to work with other hardware vendors.