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NEWBIE WATCH Incellico Secures $5M in Funds as it Gears up for June Software Debut

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Durham, NC-based startup Incellico is readying its first products for launch beginning this summer. Arrayex 1.0, which will be released commercially in June, is a web-based gene expression analysis package. The Coded Electronic Life Library (CELL) integrates and cross-links disparate data types. It will be in beta by July and Incellico expects to release it commercially in October.

Incellico was founded under the name Arrayex last spring with seed money from private investors. These “angels,” with ties to bioinformatics researchers at Duke, lured the Harvard and MIT-based founders from Cambridge to the somewhat less pricey Research Triangle area of North Carolina as a cost-saving measure. According to Incellico CEO John Wilbanks, a second round of financing has just brought in $5 million, in a 50-50 split between A.M. Pappas Venture Capital and private investors.

The CELL technology is key to the company’s offerings. Incellico has packaged a library of more than a dozen databases, including GenBank, SwissProt, PDB, OMIM, and public expression datasets, into an environment for rapid applications development. What’s new about CELL, Wilbanks said, is the way the data integration is accomplished.

“There are two primary methods of data integration,” he said. “With link-federated databases, using flat files, it’s easy to add data, but hard to do complex, multi-database queries. They’re best suited for text matches. The star model is good for fast retrieval with complex queries, but it’s hard to add new data types. Our system, using a new proprietary data model, combines the advantages of both.”

“We‘re not actually widely releasing CELL by itself,” Wilbanks added. “We’ll roll it out as we have products for it.” The first of the software packages designed to work with CELL is XRef, intended as the basic interface to the environment. This web-based application allows researchers to identify all references to a gene or protein in the library of databases, translate gene names between nomenclature schemes, add annotations, and search on multiple parameters.

Incellico currently has 26 staff members, about evenly divided between programmers, scientists, and administrative personnel. “We’re almost where we need to get to,” Wilbanks said. “We expect to have about 32 or 33 by the end of the year.”

Although no customers have stepped forward yet, Wilbanks said he is looking to get some revenue from the Arrayex product this year. He acknowledged that the package is being released into a crowded market for gene expression analysis software, but touts its advanced statistics and flexible visualization and data manipulation capabilities. “We tend to think of ourselves as competing with Rosetta, Lion, InforMax, and Spotfire because we have the data platform. We’ve targeted high-throughput analysis,” he said.

While Incellico offers the option of accessing the Arrayex software as a hosted service on the company’s servers, Wilbanks expects that most customers will want to use the package behind their own firewalls. “I see us as mainly building and selling software,” he said. “The hosted service idea is a good one, but there’s not enough support for outsourcing data. The data are the crown jewels.”

Incellico is also seeking collaborators to develop new applications for the CELL platform. Two such deals are in negotiation, and Wilbanks looks ahead to providing novel capabilities for the environment. “We have some pretty far-out ideas,” he said.

— SCC

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