Q Where will bioinformatics be in two years? Five years?
A In addition to following the current trends in bioinformatics, the next couple of years will bring a shift toward producing smarter tools for biologists that will increase their efficiency in mining data. The next five years will see the development of tools that take advantage of integrated genomics, proteomics, and metabolic pathways data to unravel the regulatory network that controls cell development.
Q What are the biggest challenges the bioinformatics sector faces?
A There simply aren’t enough qualified and experienced bioinformaticists available to satisfy the needs of the market. Fortunately, in the last couple of years, universities have been contributing to a solution to this problem by establishing undergraduate and graduate programs in bioinformatics. Until they start producing bioinformatics experts however, companies will have to continue to hire people based on potential. Also, the large quantity, complexity, and heterogeneity of data will become overwhelming without the proper tools to integrate and efficiently mine it.
Q Who are your current customers?
A We work with biologists and bioinformaticists at large companies such as Sigma-Aldrich and research institutes such as the Novartis Agricultural Research Institute. We also provide services to researchers at academic labs in universities such as the University of Delaware and Michigan State University.
Q What non-existing technology is number one on your customers’ wish list?
A Well, that’s simple! A “black box” program into which they enter data, push a button, and out comes information about how to best capitalize from it. But seriously, aside from the “Show-Me-The-Money” algorithm, people want user-friendly tools that allow them to quickly and efficiently mine their data. Biologists want programs to be as smart as graduate students, so they can just ask them questions and get answers.
Q How large is your bioinformatics staff?
A We currently have 10 programmers in our bioinformatics core.
Q Do you see yourself more as a software provider or as a consultant?
A Both. We have several shrink-wrapped software products, such as our High-Density Filter Reader and VIBE, but we also provide turnkey services to companies and laboratories that need help establishing their informatics infrastructure. While the latter also involves software development, it has a substantial consulting aspect. It’s a pretty even split right now, but that may change in the near future.
Q Where does the company’s financing come from?
A All of our financing comes from our current contracts and sales. So far, we’ve had a very successful year, with about 400 percent revenue growth compared to 1999. We were approached a couple of times in the last few months with venture capital possibilities, but I haven’t found the right opportunity yet.
Q Do you expect to see more M&A activity in the sector?
A The M&A trend is definitely going to continue. While I certainly believe that bioinformatics companies can continue to exist and be profitable as independent entities, the mergers are attractive because the combination of a bioinformatics company with another company is potentially much more valuable than the sum of the two independent companies.
Q What products do you have in the development pipeline?
A Our flagship product, VIBE, the Visual Integrated Bioinformatics Environment, is a drag-and-drop program to construct sequence analysis pipelines for the TimeLogic DeCypher Bioinformatics Accelerator. The software was well received by DeCypher users as well as by researchers who may not currently have a need for an accelerator but who requested that we make the software DeCypher-independent. Our goal is to finish the DeCypher-independent version by the end of the year.