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Molecular Mining CEO Says Bioinformatics Firms Need More than Software to Survive

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With the addition of several key staff members, the opening of a new office, and a pending deal with a pharmaceutical company, Molecular Mining is on track to realizing “all three legs” of its business model, CEO Evan Steeg told BioInform.

In addition to its growing line of GeneLinker data mining software products, Molecular Mining collaborates with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and supports its own discovery research efforts. This three-pronged approach may seem ambitious for a young company, but Steeg said it is the key to MMC’s long-term viability.

“Pure software companies can’t scale,” Steeg said. “We have to offer broader solutions.”

While balancing the multiple aspects of the business can be complex, and “the plan has to be flexible,” Steeg said each of the three components contributes to the others. The company’s discovery activities, for example, are used to strengthen its software product offerings and to validate the modeling and predictive work it undertakes in its collaborations. Likewise, continued improvement in the clustering and prediction algorithms on the software side advances both the collaboration and discovery efforts.

Most recently, MMC joined a consortium of companies organized by Raleigh, NC-based NextGen Sciences to cooperate on the development of protein biochips. As part of the consortium, MMC will adapt GeneLinker for protein biochip data mining, expanding the capabilities of the software beyond gene expression analysis. NextGen and its academic partner, the University of Cambridge, will use GeneLinker to run and support NextGen’s work.

While MMC has so far focused on building a strong footing with its software products — the entry-level GeneLinker Gold software was launched in April and an upgrade was released in October — Steeg said it is now time to concentrate as well on the growth of the other aspects of the business. He cited the hire of Mary Jane Cunningham as director of discoveries in October as proof of the company’s resolve in this area. As director of pharmacogenomics at Genometrix, Cunningham led the development of an expression database for preclinical assessment of toxicity issues — experience that Steeg said will be valuable as MMC looks toward reaping the fruits of its own discovery activities.

But that day is a bit down the road yet. MMC is still building its discovery team, and Steeg said it’s too early to know what disease areas the group will focus on. In the meantime, the company is gearing up to open its newest office in Cambridge, Mass., which will house business development, sales, and marketing staff. Unlike the dwindling ranks of other bioinformatics businesses, Molecular Mining’s staff is growing — up to 45 employees from 30 this spring — and Steeg said it would continue to grow through the coming year.

MMC is also looking toward the February launch of its enterprise GeneLinker Platinum software. While GeneLinker Gold offers publicly available algorithms, the Platinum version will include proprietary technology to find high-order correlations among genes in large datasets. This capability will allow users to uncover pathways, drug responses, and phenotypes, Steeg said. GeneLinker Diamond, to be released further down the road, will allow users to build in silico models of biomolecular pathways and gene regulatory and signaling networks.

Another new hire, Jim Sullivan, has joined the company from Lion Biosciences to serve as director of North American sales. Sullivan, working with VP Don Van Dyke, has been charged with the “global rollout” of the GeneLinker products, which includes direct sales as well as OEM agreements. Steeg said the company is in discussions with several microarray companies for possible bundling deals.

— BT

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