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Resurrecting Ardais Biobanking Technology; Gulfstream Bets on Pure-Play Software Model


Gulfstream Bioinformatics, a new company founded to commercialize the biobanking informatics technology developed at Ardais, bears a number of similarities to its predecessor — but it's making a clear departure when it comes to its business model.

Gulfstream, which purchased the technology assets of Ardais after it closed shop last year, has retained the company's core management staff and plans to keep the same name for its flagship product, the BIGR (Biomaterials and Information for Genomics Research) Biospecimen Management System.

But Eric Muhr, formerly vice president of sales at Ardais and now vice president of sales at Gulfstream, said that unlike Ardais, the new firm "has a laser-like focus on the software product, and there are no distractions with trying to manage a biospecimen business, there are no distractions of trying to convert from a biospecimen-provider model. It's purely a software product that we're commercializing to biopharma."

When privately held Ardais was founded in 2000, its biobanking informatics tools primarily supported its core business as a clinical sample provider. After evolving toward more of an informatics focus in the ensuing years, the company eventually sold the biospecimen business to Cytomyx Holdings last year for $3 million in order to focus its activities entirely on the software business [BioInform 04-04-05].

"There are no distractions with trying to manage a biospecimen business, there are no distractions of trying to convert from a biospecimen-provider model. It's purely a software product that we're commercializing to biopharma."

The move was too little, too late, however, and the company — which had raised more than $50 million since it was founded — ran out of cash and was shut down in October.

Muhr said that the Gulfstream Group — an investment firm that specializes in "orphaned" technologies — purchased the company's assets at auction. While he would not disclose the amount of funding that Gulfstream provided, Muhr said that the new firm is "well funded by a very strong group of investors who are in it for the long haul. They recognize the need in the market for this type of software platform, and they recognized that Ardais had the most robust platform."

Gulfstream Bioinformatics launched in mid-February with "none of the entanglements of the previous company," Muhr said. "The company has a clean slate."

With no liabilities and a product in hand that took several years and tens of millions of dollars to develop, "what we're able to do now is really just focus on the commercialization of the software platform," Muhr said.

In another departure from its predecessor, Muhr said that while Ardais focused its efforts on academic and medical institutions, "our driven intention is to go after the commercial biopharma market."

Since October, Muhr said that the core team of five Ardais staffers has added several new features to BIGR to meet the requirements of biopharma, including better compliance capabilities and IRB-approval features. One important aspect of the system is the use of drop-down menus to standardize order entry across multiple user sites, he said.

"If I log in 10 samples, there's going to be some consistency in that," he said, whereas with many other systems, "it's up to the person generating the data — they decide how they want to describe the material that they enter into the system. You can imagine over the course of thousands of samples and several locations, at the end of the day, unless you standardize the collection protocols, you lose the power of uniformity and the fidelity that you need to know that the quality of the sample is up to snuff."

Muhr said that the company has retained a "short list" of Ardais customers, and that he's "very optimistic with the market pull for the product" as more and more pharmaceutical and biotech companies turn toward translational medicine, pharmacogenomics, and biomarker discovery.

Most pharmaceutical companies have inventory-management systems for their biospecimens, "but what they really need is a robust system not just to manage the inventory, but to couple that to the clinical data collection and the informatics that is required to make that information usable," he said.

Of course, Gulfstream has its share of competitors who are also hoping to meet that demand. LabVantage, for example, has added a biobanking module to its flagship Sapphire LIMS system in order to capture its share of the growing market. Another former competitor, First Genetic Trust, has also closed shop, but its technology assets will likely change hands sometime soon [BioInform 04-21-06].

But Muhr is confident that BIGR offers a number of advantages over its competitors. "When we look out among the landscape, there are a number of LIMS-type companies, and even some of the early genomic software companies, that are now trying to bolt on the characteristics of a system that would support a very cursory biobanking effort," he said, adding that none of these offerings have the "depth and the functionality" of BIGR.

— Bernadette Toner ([email protected])


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