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PE Acquisition of Molecular Informatics Puts MDL Out of Bioinformatics Market

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SAN LEANDRO, Calif.--MDL Information Systems here, which sold its rights to market Molecular Informatics' BioMerge bioinformatics software after the latter company was acquired recently by Perkin-Elmer, has essentially left the bioinformatics market for the time being, officials told BioInform. However, the firm will continue to work in the broader biology and chemistry arenas and could return to bioinformatics with software offerings--probably of a more custom nature--at some point in the future, according to Peter Cohan, MDL's vice-president of customer marketing.

MDL's David Kristofferson, who handled marketing of the BioMerge system, has been reassigned within the company, and the future of Barry Robson, MDL's principal scientist for bioinformatics, is not clear. In addition to his position with MDL, Robson is a visiting scholar at Stanford and CEO of the Dirac Foundation, which focuses on bioinformatics and genetic science, at the University of London. "There's not much for me to do at MDL for the foreseeable future," he told BioInform, but added that his "relationship with MDL is still good and will continue in some form."

"It's only partly accurate that we're entirely getting out of bioinformatics," Cohan elaborated. "We do see it as a very important strategic ability to access and make use of genomic data. We are expanding our existing product lines into the genomic area, and that's largely customer-driven. We work as consultants to solve our customers' problems. Our customers are looking for help with the target validation process."

MDL entered the business on the chemical end, he continued. "Our original products completely focused on storing and working with chemical structures," Cohan observed. "We were driven by our customers to integrate chemical and biological data." He added, "We're very strong in integration, providing support tools and logistics tools."

Ultimately, Cohan said, working with BioMerge gave MDL a chance to learn about the genomics market, but the lessons learned could lead the company away from generic products, to return to its roots of more customer-specific product solutions. "All the major pharmas have their own idea of what a database should look like," he explained. "It's hard to build a product with a predefined vision of a database. They'll always find things wrong with it."

Instead, he envisioned future bioinformatics offerings from MDL could evolve from "working with customers to develop a vision, then developing components, then solutions, and out of those solutions there may coalesce a product we can bring to market." In the meantime, MDL will remain more broadly in the biology market with its Lifescience Workbench group of products.

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