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A Niche Market is Born: Ardais Wins ATP Grant To Create Clinical Genomics Software Toolkit

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Ardais is aggressively staking its claim in the largely untapped territory of clinical genomics. The three-year-old Lexington, Mass., firm recently won a $2 million Advanced Technology Program grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a software system to correlate clinical information with genomics data.

The two-year ATP grant specifies that the software developed be commercialized, so Ardais will be breaking new ground in an informatics sphere inhabited mostly by non-profit efforts to date.

The company will use the grant to expand the capability of its BIGR (Biomaterials and Information for Genomic Research) system, a web-based library of human tissue samples and clinical data. The goal, according to Martin Ferguson, senior vice president of bioinformatics at Ardais, is to structure data from medical records in such a way that it can be compared with similar information from other medical organizations, as well as with molecular-level data from genomics experiments.

Ardais already has a system in place to collect, structure, and quantitate clinical information from its four partner medical institutions. However, Ferguson noted, the company expects to add to this list soon, and also hopes to “vastly increase” the 200 or so clinical concepts it now represents in its database.

The software, once completed, will allow the company to accelerate its current efforts by automating the process a bit. “The best way to describe this,” according to Ferguson, “is to create self-describing clinical concepts in software that include information about the allowable values for a clinical concept, how it might display itself on the user interface, how it relates to other clinical concepts that might be associated with it in the medical record, and also how to model itself inside a database structure.”

According to Ferguson, Ardais’ software will extract and quantify key clinical concepts mentioned within medical text, such as gender, age, diagnosis, and tumor characteristics, so that they can be represented as discrete, computable values.

Other informatics projects are also trying to bridge the gap between clinical care and genomics research, but these efforts have so far been limited to the academic world. The NCI supports a number of initiatives in this area, including the Cancer Genome Anatomy Project, the Common Data Elements Dictionary, and the caCORE and caBIO projects [BioInform 09-02-02]. The University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pennsylvania have also launched clinical informatics efforts. Ferguson said Ardais is “paying attention” to these projects.

Ardais currently has over 18 commercial subscribers to its BIGR system, Ferguson said.

— BT

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