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Monsanto Opts for Biotique's BLIS to Integrate Agricultural Genomics Data

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Life is ‘BLIS’ for Monsanto, now that Biotique Systems has completed a two-year data integration project for the agricultural biotech giant.
 
Known for its preeminence in genetically altering seeds, Monsanto tapped Biotique to replace its legacy data-integration system with BLIS, or Biotique Local Integration System, about two years ago. Biotique announced the completion of the project this week.
 
Monsanto is using BLIS to manage and integrate data from its mammoth genomic and biotechnology research efforts.
 
David Kovalic, Monsanto’s bioinformatics project manager, told BioInform via e-mail that the project was “highly successful” and that Monsanto developers worked “hand-in-hand” with Biotique staffers.
 
Now that the initial project is complete, Monsanto has tapped Biotique for a “project extension covering additional functionality,” Kovalic said, though he declined to provide further details on the extension.
 
Kovalic said that working with Biotique enabled Monsanto’s in-house bioinformatics developers to focus their efforts on proprietary projects.
 
Financial details of the deal were not disclosed, but Biotique CEO Stephen Sanders told BioInform that in general it’s much more cost-efficient for companies like Monsanto to farm out development of data-integration projects rather than use in-house staff.
 
Nevertheless, he noted, there is still resistance from some potential customers to turn over development to an external vendor.
 
 “Our main competitor is in-house, one-off custom development by informatics departments that want to do this in-house,” he said, ”which, if you are looking at this from a budgetary perspective and a cost-benefit perspective, makes no sense to do in an industry that’s this mature,” Sanders said.
 
“We aren’t making our own gasoline to put in our car. It makes sense to go to the gas pump. It doesn’t make sense to build our own computers because there are so many good options … and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to develop something when you can get it more efficiently from a commercial source.”
 
Engine Replacement
 
Biotique’s BLIS is a flexible and customizable framework with a series of modules tailored to tackle common bioinformatics functions like transcript profiling. It also includes comparative genomic tools and a “data refinery” tool for detecting splice variants. The open framework also provides a way for users to link in-house informatics components such as content repositories, algorithms, and protocols into the system.
 

“We aren’t making our own gasoline to put in our car. It makes sense to go to the gas pump. It doesn’t make sense to build our own computers because there are so many good options … and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to develop something when you can get it more efficiently from a commercial source.”

Monsanto “removed a legacy system [that] was sitting in the middle of all this data and put BLIS at this location,” Sanders said, noting that one of the developers described the project as a “complete engine replacement.”
 
Due to the scope of the project, Monsanto determined that a commercial integration platform would be a better option than developing another system from scratch, Sanders said. “When you completely replace the knowledge center engine, so to speak, you have to then hook everything back up to it,” which was one reason “they wanted something that was commercially developed, off the shelf, commercially supported.”
 
He pointed out that if a company relies on in-house developers alone, it could be sorry one or two years down the road when it needs to tweak the system and those developers have left the company. “It’s a very transient industry, with a lot of people moving around,” he pointed out.
 
In addition, Sanders said, agricultural biotech firms like Monsanto are more likely to see a quicker return on investment from bioinformatics investments than will pharma or biotech firms because product-development timelines are much shorter and there is less of a regulatory burden.
 
“When we work in the pharmaceutical or biotech industry and there’s massive investment in research, we never really see the investment in the short term — and [by] short term [I mean] even being five years,” he said. However, “in the ag space, it’s two or three years and they are getting a direct correlation to [what we’ve done for them]. [We are getting], ‘Wow, we worked with Biotique and we are able to make better decisions because we had this information and this knowledge right here at our fingertips. We picked these traits, and look, two years later [we’re] the leader for corn traits,’ for example.”

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