InforMax recently marked its first anniversary as an Invitrogen business unit with a comprehensive overview of its activities over the past year and an assessment of its future strategic direction within the company. Not exactly roses and champagne, but, according to InforMax general manager John Green, nearly as satisfying. “It’s been a very successful year,” he said.
The year-long integration process went far beyond adding InforMax’s software tools to Invitrogen’s massive life science product catalog. Invitrogen is taking full advantage of its new division’s bioinformatics expertise, and extending the range of InforMax’s capabilities throughout the company. In addition to selling its software, Invitrogen is relying on InforMax to assist with its web-based e-commerce platform and to raise the level of bioinformatics know-how across all of its business units.
Green said that this “three-pronged” role within Invitrogen has helped smooth the integration process. “I think that people are appreciating more and more the power of bioinformatics, and therefore, the need for bioinformatics is being highlighted as something that needs to be identified and executed against across all of the business segments of Invitrogen,” he said. “It doesn’t just have to be through standalone proprietary software that the company is getting value through bioinformatics.”
Green’s comments are in line with those made by Invitrogen’s senior management. At the company’s annual guidance meeting in New York on Dec. 10, Invitrogen CEO Gregory Lucier noted that, while informatics software is “not a strong business area,” the acquisition of InforMax was still worthwhile because informatics “is becoming more of a capability within the company.”
Lucier, formerly CEO of General Electric’s Medical Systems Information Technologies business unit, was appointed CEO of Invitrogen in June — a boon for bioinformatics at Invitrogen, according to Green: “He has been a tremendous advocate based on his business experience and background in IT.”
Despite its new, multi-faceted role within its parent company, Green stressed that InforMax will continue to improve the well-known software products that it’s been selling for over a decade. Over the course of 2003, the company released new versions of Vector NTI Advance, Vector Xpression, Vector PathBlazer, LabShare for Vector NTI, and the Vector NTI Suite for Mac OS X.
New versions of the software will be integrated with Invitrogen’s related products offerings. In the case of Vector NTI Advance 9.0, which was released at the beginning of September, “that was really the first time that [Invitrogen’s] wet lab/dry lab vision came to fruition in terms of our products,” Green said. The software includes hyperlinks for particular vectors, primers, clones, or other Invitrogen products that take users directly to an information page on the company’s website, where they can place orders, Green said.
Invitrogen’s sales staff has been fully trained on InforMax’s bioinformatics offerings, and is using its existing customer relationships to identify leads for InforMax’s more specialized sales team, Green said. In addition, “we’ve had multiple product bundles and cross-promotions between our software and Invitrogen’s other products as part of the total solution sell that Invitrogen has,” he said.
Lucier outlined this sales approach at the guidance meeting, describing it as a means to increase the average purchase order from $400 to $5,000 by offering bundled “product systems.”
Invitrogen does not break out its bioinformatics software sales, but Green said that InforMax has “seen growth within the software side” of its business since closing the acquisition last year.
Green said that InforMax is now in the process of deploying certain elements from some of its Vector software tools on the Invitrogen homepage as part of the company’s strategy to make the website “the destination of choice for the whole molecular biology community.”
Lucier said that the goal of Invitrogen’s e-commerce strategy is to eventually derive 30 percent of all of its orders from the web.
Basic tools for sequence analysis, cloning, pathway analysis, and other tasks will be freely available through the site beginning in the first quarter of 2004, Green said. “The feeling is that, by forging a deeper relationship with the customers and showing even more value added, that that deepens the relationship between Invitrogen and our customers,” he said. In addition, he pointed out, “It’s good exposure for our software. While these are going to be some pretty basic tools … we feel we can then upsell [users] into the standalone software.”
InforMax’s role within the company as a catalyst for making bioinformatics a company-wide enabling technology is less well defined than its role in software sales and e-commerce, and therefore more likely to evolve based on Invitrogen’s future strategic direction.
Lucier said that Invitrogen plans to increase its internal R&D spending from $54 million in 2003 to $77 million in 2004, and also plans to continue its aggressive acquisition strategy. Therefore, as the company identifies new products in its different business segments that it wants to either build or acquire, InforMax will likely take part in determining the potential role of bioinformatics “in terms of software that is embedded into an instrument or another product, as an analytical service for customers as part of an expanded services offering, or a combined services product offering,” Green said. Additionally, as Invitrogen modifies its business development strategy, InforMax will help “make sure that bioinformatics is on the screen in terms of another way to add value to those initiatives,” Green said.
As an example, Lucier noted at the guidance meeting that Invitrogen plans to focus some of its new-found informatics expertise on RNAi design. Green confirmed that this move was in part the result of Invitrogen’s acquisition of Sequitur in November, but “there was an initiative already underway to be able to deploy RNAi both into our software for sale, as well as what would ultimately go into some of the web-based solutions.”
Green was unable to disclose further product development plans, but did note that InforMax just hired a new director of R&D for informatics — Vivian Bonazzi, formerly director of gene discovery at Celera. The new position is “another sign of how we continue to build our capabilities,” Green said, as well as evidence of Invitrogen’s commitment to bioinformatics.