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Saeid Akhtari, Chief Operating Officer, Silicon Genetics

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AT A GLANCE Holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and an MBA. Prior to joining Silicon Genetics, was an executive management team member at Pharsight, DoubleTwist, Oxford Molecular Group, and IntelliGenetics. Enjoys reading, mountain biking, and basketball.

QWhere will bioinformatics be in two years? Five years?

ABioinformatics will become even more important in the future than it is today. The data overload problem will become more acute as high-throughput life science data production technologies continue to come online. In the near term, scientists will demand increasingly sophisticated software tools to enable them to make productive use of those data. In addition, I believe the range of data types handled by bioinformatics systems will increase. So far, genomics researchers have applied bioinformatics mainly to drug discovery and the early target validation stages of drug development. As pharmaco-genomics goes mainstream, bioinformatics will extend all the way to the clinic. Upcoming clinical trial successes with drug leads generated using bioinformatics will validate the approach and boost bioinformatics’ adoption rate throughout the drug development process.

QWhat are the biggest challenges the bioinformatics sector faces?

AMaking analysis methods and data of all types accessible to researchers from a wide variety of disciplines. Enabling the sharing of analysis results in a way that makes sense to people in other disciplines that need to understand them. Explaining the methods, uses and benefits of bioinformatics to non-bioinformaticists.

QWhat do you see as the most important task for bioinformatics to address beyond genome sequencing?

AFiguring out how to use the information to make a good drug. Bioinformatics needs to help work out how genes affect organisms, and in turn, what affects genes. To do so, bioinformatics needs to integrate and analyze a diverse and growing body of sequence data, mRNA and protein expression data, molecular interaction data, scientific literature, and additional, novel forms of life science information.

QWho are your current customers? Which additional customer group do you aim to capture?

AWe currently have more than 3,000 users in over 250 organizations using our products. These include major pharmaceutical, biotechnology, diagnostics, consumer products, and agriculture companies, as well as leading academic, government, and other nonprofit research institutions. We’re fortunate from a strategic perspective in that our current customer base defines our target market, so unlike a lot of high-tech companies we don’t have to spend time trying to figure out how to make our products attractive to a different audience.

QWhat non-existing technology is number one on your customers’ wish list?

AOur customers need to automate, standardize, and document gene expression analysis.

An easy-to-use script-writing tool will enable them to define, link, save, and re-apply the steps they use to analyze expression data. Our customer organizations also need to maximize each scientist’s contribution by centralizing enterprise-wide gene expression data into a common resource with enterprise-wide data mining and reporting capabilities. Our web-based product GeNet manages gene expression data, enables analyses, and facilitates research communication. Later this year we’ll release MetaMine, a very powerful, autonomous mining tool that addresses our customers’ wish to leverage their organizations’ accumulating gene expression data.

QWhat is the company’s annual revenue? Are you profitable?

ASilicon Genetics has been profitable since the introduction of its first product in the fall of 1998. We’ve been growing our sales revenue by 35 percent per quarter since 1998.

QDo you expect to see more M&A activity in the sector?

AThe bioinformatics companies that can embed their products as a valuable part of scientists’ research projects will be able to prosper independently. Mergers make sense when two companies discover that together they can offer something more valuable to their customers. When both of those companies are already successful individually, though, they’re more likely to pursue a constructive partnership, rather than a merger agreement.

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