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Pipeline Partners: InforMax Pairs with SciTegic to Dovetail Bio- and Cheminformatics Products

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In an effort to expand its customer base into the cheminformatics realm, InforMax has entered a strategic alliance with SciTegic, a San Diego-based supplier of data pipelining software.

SciTegic will combine aspects of its Pipeline Pilot workflow management technology with InforMax’s Vector family of desktop products, with the first fruits of their efforts planned for release in the first half of 2003.

The exclusive partnership gives InforMax entry into two key areas: cheminformatics and data pipelining. SciTegic, founded in early 1999 by former employees of Molecular Simulations, has so far concentrated on streamlining cheminformatics research by capturing multi-step analytical procedures that can then be saved for future re-use or shared across an enterprise.

This data pipelining approach is gaining popularity in the bioinformatics market. Companies such as Incogen, the Science Factory, KooPrime, TurboWorx, and Spotfire all offer some variation on the idea.

Steve Lincoln, chief scientific officer at InforMax, said the company chose to partner with SciTegic for a number of reasons, not least of which was SciTegic’s strong foothold in the pharmaceutical industry. SciTegic claims Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Isis, Aventis, and Millennium among its 30 customers, and the software “has been proven in production operations,” Lincoln noted.

Likewise, Matt Hahn, CEO of SciTegic, said that InforMax’s customer base on the bioinformatics side was attractive to the company. While the two firms have a “fair degree of overlap in customers” this doesn’t extend to end users, who tend to exist on opposite sides of the biology/chemistry fence. This separation was “the rationale for doing the deal,” said Hahn. “ We can put together research protocols to span both bioinformatics and cheminformatics.”

SciTegic already offers several hundred cheminformatics-based modular components that users can plug into Pipeline Pilot. InforMax will begin adding bioinformatics components based on its Vector products in the areas of sequence analysis, gene expression, and pathway analysis.

While the finer points of the arrangement are still being worked out, each company will have a degree of flexibility in how they distribute the integrated products. InforMax will offer the pipelining capability as an underlying feature for its Vector suite, while SciTegic will provide ready-made bioinformatics modules for its cheminformatics customers looking to bridge the gap between the two disciplines.

Lincoln said that the technology serves as a good approach to data integration. While data warehouses and even data federation provide “a single point of failure” should something go wrong, the pipeline approach simply automates the “data schlepping” between divergent resources that most informatics groups currently perform manually.

Hahn noted that “around half a dozen” SciTegic customers have already integrated their own bioinformatics tools into Pipeline Pilot using the software’s open architecture, and the company realized the potential opportunity of providing an easier means to merge the two data and application sets for the rest of its customer base.

Bioinformatics has “been seen to go out of favor,” Hahn said, “but we’re just at the stage now where companies are reliant on bioinformatics… Companies are just beginning to realize the impact that bioinformatics can have when combined with other informatics technology like cheminformatics.”

Despite the uncertainty surrounding InforMax’s future as it careens toward a Nasdaq delisting at the end of the month, Hahn said he was confident in the future of the partnership. “They have plenty of cash in the bank and they’ve taken steps to move in the right direction,” he said. “I’m very excited about the collaboration.”

— BT

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