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Looking to Build Life Science Business, Appistry Hires New VP, Inks Deal with UM Bioinformatics Arm


This article has been updated from an earlier version to correct previously reported pricing for Appistry's services and the capacity of its appliances.

By Uduak Grace Thomas

Intending to grow its presence in the life sciences market, cloud computing firm Appistry has tapped former Accelrys executive Trevor Heritage to serve as its vice president of marketing and sales.

In addition to overseeing the company’s broad sales and marketing initiatives, Heritage will spearhead efforts to build alliances around its genomic data analysis solutions, Appistry said.

In line with its effort to build its life science business, the company announced separately this week that the University of Missouri's bioinformatics arm will use Ayrris/Bio — Appistry's cloud-based next generation sequence data analysis offering — to analyze genomic data.

Although Heritage won't focus exclusively on life science markets, by hiring him, Appistry "has confirmed" that it intends to be a more aggressive player in the life sciences space and to "dispel the myth" that genomic analysis is an expensive undertaking, Heritage told BioInform.

Heritage has held a number of executive positions in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, chemicals, and software sectors. Most recently, he served as the executive vice president of software products for Accelrys.

In this capacity, he oversaw the company's business strategy and orchestrated a merger between Accelrys and his former employer, Symyx Software, where he served as president (BI 7/2/2010).

Prior to joining Symyx, Heritage held senior leadership positions at Elsevier MDL, Tripos, and Shell Research where he was responsible for managing corporate and product development.

Last September, Appistry threw its hat into the bioinformatics ring when it launched Ayrris/Bio, a version of its CloudIQ platform that provides a complete data-analysis pipeline for next-generation sequencing data (BI 9/9/2011).

The platform includes algorithms for exome and whole-genome analysis, including tools to annotate sequences with information on insertions/deletions, rare variants, SNPs, quality scores, and variant gene functional effects, as well as a pipeline for RNA-seq.

Ayrris/Bio also offers petabytes of storage for genomics data and patient data, which complies with regulatory requirements, according to the company.

"Some of the capabilities that Appistry can offer in terms of building analytic pipelines for analysis of NGS data or biomarker data or even clinical data, and doing that with highly flexible pipelines with a good price performance ratio, was really something that I hadn’t seen anywhere else in companies in the genomics ... data analysis space in general," Heritage told BioInform.

While the company's current customer base is split equally between the life science, financial, and defense sectors, Heritage said about 80 percent of its business focus is on building out its life science arm.

As part of those efforts, Heritage will focus on expanding the company's footprint through relationships he has with pharmaceutical and biotech firms as well as academia, research institutions, and clinical contract research organizations.

Additionally, Heritage said he is working on "understanding the competitive space," which includes companies like DNAnexus, as well as exploring new avenues in the market for Appistry to peddle its cloud platform.

Appistry intends to differentiate itself from the competition by offering a better price performance, as well as a faster turnaround time and more flexible and diverse pipelines, he said.

Customers can either purchase the platform as an appliance that can be installed in house or pay to use the firm's public cloud service, in which Appistry's team analyzes the data and returns the results to the client.

Its exome and whole genome analysis services start at $99 for the alignment alone and it charges $199 for RNA-seq data analysis. If annotations are included, those prices rise to $250 for exome analysis, $399 for whole genome analysis, and $499 for RNA-seq.

Appistry also offers three types of appliances, with a medium appliance providing up to 192 terabytes of storage and can align 1.5 TB of data per day. A small appliance offers about half that capacity and a large appliance provides about 384 TB and aligns 3TB of data per day. The small appliance starts at under $100,000.

This is a new business model for Appistry, Heritage said, explaining that the company has historically made its bread and butter by forming partnerships with its customers.

However, as it moves into life sciences, "we have recognized ... an opportunity to break that mold of being a company that’s just financed through partnerships with customers and actually make more of a transactional business where we are offering a fee for service ... or providing customers with the ability to run our platform in their own environment," he said.

"We still mostly develop custom solutions in other business areas" including defense and finance, he said. "The big change is that we’ve changed this for [life sciences] and now have a complete, turnkey solution" instead.

As part of this strategy, Appistry will offer "a high degree of flexibility" in the algorithms that make up its pipelines, and will ensure that its platform does not "eliminate diversity" but instead incorporates programs that customers want to run on their datasets rather than a fixed set of software tools, he said.

The new agreement with the University of Missouri's bioinformatics group is an example of that strategy. According to firm, the university will run Appistry's computational pipelines as well as its own internally developed tools on genomic data from plant and animal research projects.

Appistry expects that its cloud platform will help the researchers increase the computational scale of their analysis pipelines and improve their data management abilities.

In addition to UM, Appistry's systems are used at institutions like the Stanford University School of Medicine; the University of California, Davis; the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; and the Emory Winship Cancer Institute.

Appistry's current headcount stands at about 50 employees, Heritage said. Early this year, the company moved its headquarters to a new office in its St. Louis hometown.

The company is looking to increase its sales and marketing force as well as its technical capabilities on the computational biology and genomics front, he said.

Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioInform? Contact the editor at uthomas [at] genomeweb [.] com.

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