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Netgenics To Provide Framework, Software Services To AHP Sites

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CLEVELAND--Netgenics announced last week that it has signed a four-year contract with American Home Products (AHP) to provide an informatics infrastructure and software engineering services package intended to link seven AHP drug-discovery sites in three of the company's divisions.

Netgenics CEO Manuel Glynias called the arrangement "win-win" and said his company will deliver a competitive advantage to AHP while gaining knowledge about the informatics needs of a major drug-discovery operation. Pharmaceutical companies would not be building their own bioinformatics tools if what they needed was available off the shelf, Glynias contended, noting, "It would be easier for drug companies to buy instead of build." He said Netgenics hopes the collaboration will enhance its ability to meet customers' demands.

Michael Liebman, director of bioinformatics at AHP's Wyeth-Ayerst Research site in Radnor, Pa., said his company is interested in the Netgenics framework as "part of an overall strategy to build a bioinformatics portfolio of technologies in support of an enterprise-wide solution."

The Netgenics Synergy package that AHP purchased is a combination of services and an application framework. Glynias described the framework as a "CORBA- and Java-based bioinformatics application built as a software framework to perform DNA and protein sequences and alignments and database searches." He added that "new functionality extends into chemoinformatics and proteomics."

Netgenics can "easily customize and extend the basic functionalities" of the product, as well as integrate it with AHP's other tools, he continued. "It's got all the advantages of a shrink-wrapped code, but is customizable and extendable," said Glynias.

For instance, he described one example of how Netgenics developed custom software during the evaluation period: "We looked at an operation done repeatedly in a preclinical group that was looking at sequences for targets. In a few weeks we were able to build a tool that automated their proprietary analysis methods and eliminated the drudgery of the job," he recalled.

AHP's Genetics Institute unit of Wyeth-Ayerst Research in Andover and Cambridge, Mass., installed early versions of the Netgenics product during the summer. Since then, Glynias said, "We've been jumping through hoops to get the system and our relationship to work."

In coming months installations are planned at Wyeth-Ayerst Research sites in Radnor, Pa.; Princeton, NJ; Pearl River, NY; and Chazy, NY. AHP's Lederle division in West Henrietta, NY, will also participate.

Glynias said he was surprised by AHP's interest in committing to a multifacility installation. "We didn't expect a drug company to be ready to do an enterprise-wide deal," he acknowledged. But the decision enables users across the company to share information effortlessly, Glynias said. "We put physical hardware into each site. The software makes it look like one giant site," he elaborated. For example, a researcher at any location could perform a Blast search and never know where the enabling server resided, he said.

According to Glynias, Netgenics' installation will enable scientists and others across the company to share results, annotate data, and create graphical representations of research results.

Under terms of the contract, Netgenics will provide training and consulting services and the framework will remain at AHP for four years. Comparing the arrangement to one a pharmaceutical company would strike with a database provider, Glynias said, "we try not to separate the software from the services." He added that AHP will receive software updates and new releases, training, and access to a 24-hour help desk that will free the company's in-house experts to focus on bioinformatics.

"At the end of four years, hopefully they'll renew the contract," Glynias concluded.

--Adrienne Burke

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