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OmniViz Tackles Visualization Challenges of Large Data Sets

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OmniViz, a Battelle spinoff, is counting on its data visualization software to help scientists transform information overload into knowledge. While its competitors allow researchers to test connections between attributes, OmniViz Pro lets them explore multiple data sets and discover unexpected relationships, said Jeff Saffer, chief technology officer.

“The approach is to provide overviews of the data that allow the user to make fundamental judgments about their data without being bounded by prior hypotheses,” Saffer said. In addition, he said, the software was specifically designed to accommodate very large data sets, both in terms of numbers of records and numbers of attributes.

OmniViz Pro generates high-dimensional mathematical representations for any type of data, including text (such as literature or annotations), numeric (for example, gene expression data), categorical (such as genotype or disease state), and genomic sequence. Cluster analysis is provided along with interactive tools for visualization in which multiple experiments and data types can be examined simultaneously. “Everyone does clustering, but it is what happens after the clustering that really counts,” Saffer said.

In addition to the visualizations and other “fundamental judgment” tools, OmniViz Pro, which runs on the Solaris and Windows NT operating systems, includes tools for inspection, query, statistical analysis, and data input, transformation, and quality assurance. Potential applications include experimental design, target identification, gene expression analysis, proteomics analysis, and pharmacogenomics. The capabilities of the software can also be harnessed outside the laboratory, for functions such as competitive intelligence and patent analysis.

“Understanding the competitive landscape and freedom to operate is increasingly important to decisions made by research scientists,” Saffer said. “In addition, our clients have separate organizations that deal with competitive intelligence, strategic planning, and related issues. We are meeting the needs of the entire organization, not just the researchers.”

Battelle established OmniViz in March 2000 as a wholly owned subsidiary to market its OmniViz Pro software, and has provided all of its funding to date, about $10 million. Steve Herbert, formerly senior vice president of sales and marketing at Pharmacopeia, assumed the role of president and CEO at OmniViz this March, and set up shop in the company’s newly established headquarters in Maynard, Mass. Current plans call for a staff of about 30 by the end of the year.

Early collaborators include BASF Plant Science and Johnson & Johnson. No other relationships have yet been announced publicly. Herbert, who recently returned from several weeks on the road meeting with potential customers, said there are currently five or six established clients and a “significant number” of pilot sites, where OmniViz is providing training and support to users evaluating the product.

OmniViz executives envision a three-fold business model. They are continuing to seek collaborations, which “provide us with a direct connection to the market needs,” Saffer said. Direct sales will be offered to commercial, academic, and government customers, and a pricing policy is currently under review. In addition, OmniViz is forming alliances with technology and data vendors to provide integrated solutions. This is anticipated to involve a substantial effort to customize the OmniViz Pro package for alliance partners.

Additional products are in the pipeline as well. While Herbert declined to discuss specifics, he indicated that the company would continue to help scientists find their way through the ever-expanding universe of biological data. “Our thrust is to provide tools which will extend the capacity of human reasoning as it pertains to large volumes of data,” he said.

— SSC

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