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Lion Plans Public Offering and Enters Ag Genomics Alliance with Paradigm

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EIDELBERG, Germany--German bioinformatics company Lion Bioscience, which revealed recently that it is planning a mid-year initial public offering on the Nasdaq and German NeuerMarkt exchanges, has formed a functional genomics partnership with Paradigm Genetics of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Friedrich von Bohlen, Lion’s CEO, told BioInform that the alliance between the two companies will integrate Paradigm’s data with Lion’s information management system, resulting in a new product. Lion’s datamining tools will support Paradigm’s gene function determination technologies for identification and delivery of targets for crop production, nutrition, and human health.

At first, the partnership will develop informatics tools for metabolic profiling to predict changes in biochemical pathways in plants and fungi. Lion’s integrated information technology systems and Paradigm’s relational database system, AgDB, will be used in that effort. The two companies also plan to develop phenotypic analysis tools to analyze and predict gene function. They will cooperate on development and marketing, von Bohlen said.

Most of Lion’s existing customers are pharmaceutical companies, but it has completed custom agricultural projects for clients such as AgrEvo, Cargill, and Unilever. Von Bohlen said that some applications will have to be modified for use with Paradigm’s agricultural data, but not completely reengineered.

"The initial attraction between Lion and us was mainly their focus on the user interface," said John Ryals, Paradigm’s CEO and president. Lion is devising a "universal driver system" for database navigation, a task Ryals compared to developing an internet browser. This fills an important need because large pharmaceutical company users bounce between say six or eight databases, so a good graphical user interface is necessary, said Ryals. It also allows Paradigm’s informatics staff to concentrate on other projects. Paradigm expects to collaborate with Lion on database design. "We want to help pull them into these markets to set a standard," said Ryals.

Ryals described Paradigm’s business--"industrialized biology"--as the creation of factories to analyze gene function in plants and fungi. The strategy includes developing capabilities to examine phenotype, gene expression, and biochemical profiles, which result in large databases with demanding storage requirements.

Lion also will supply datamining software, Ryals said. "We have some sophisticated problems to deal with and we have our own software writers, but if we leverage our and their software writers, we can reach these answers quicker and better." Ryals said the two companies would cooperatively develop new datamining tools for gene expression profiling and biochemical profiling.

Along with its Bayer and Paradigm partnerships, Lion is in the process of negotiating another alliance that von Bohlen said he hopes to announce in March. Once that pact is finalized, the company will turn its attention to going public. If feasible, Lion will be listed on both Nasdaq and NeuerMarkt in order to be visible in its home country and the US. Von Bohlen cautioned that there is no guarantee that the company will launch an IPO this summer. But citing its revenues and customers, he called Lion a mid- to late-stage company ripe for a public offering.

Those customers include British Biotech, Janssen, Merck, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, and SmithKline Beecham. Like Paradigm, each of those companies has licensed Lion’s SRS6 product that allows researchers to access many databases through a single interface and query across them.

Christian Marcazzo, SRS product manager at Lion, said the company is extending the functionality of the package by adding SRS Prisma and SRS Objects. Prisma automates the management of nightly downloads of data from public databases into repositories at life sciences companies. Lion developed Prisma because it saw that more automation and fault tolerance were needed in that process, he said. If SRS fails, it works around the failure, finishes what it can, and notifies the systems administrator where the failure is. "Most tools don’t allow that," said Marcazzo.

The addition of SRS Objects, a collection of programming interfaces, expands SRS’s capabilities as an integration and development platform. While most companies use SRS as a web tool, SRS Objects extends those functions so that in-house programmers can use SRS to write bioinformatics software. The interfaces also enable developers to write in the most popular programming languages, Corba, Java, and Perl.

--Matthew Dougherty

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