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SAS Offshoot iBiomatics Spun Back in to Reinforce Pharma Practice, Genomics Group

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A year and a half after the launch of its first spin-off company, the SAS Institute has decided to bring iBiomatics back under its wing.

The Cary, NC, News & Observer reported on October 16 that iBiomatics’ software products would be returned to the SAS brand and that further development and sales of the products would be handled by SAS employees.

Around half of iBiomatics’ 67 employees were originally employed by the PharmaHealth technology division of SAS, which was spun out as the wholly owned iBiomatics subsidiary in May 2000. Scott Neuville, CEO of iBiomatics, told BioInform that SAS is in the process of creating a pharmaceutical practice that has “more positions posted than we had within iBiomatics.” It is likely that most will find employment within that unit or other divisions of SAS.

Neuville said that discussions regarding the future management structure of the iBiomatics unit are still underway.

iBiomatics was spun out with the goal of building customized Internet portals for the R&D divisions of biopharmaceutical clients. Its initial products were the SAS-developed PH.DataWare for clinical data warehousing and PH.Clinical for the medical and statistical review of clinical information. iBiomatics recently added to these offerings with the launch of G23 and P21, web-based systems for managing genomic data and clinical trials data, respectively.

The strong brand recognition of SAS opened many doors for the young company, Neuville said, but as iBiomatics began to deploy its products and services beyond the R&D area, it began to run into areas where SAS had already established itself. This led to a bit of an identity crisis. “We weren’t in competition with SAS,” Neuville said, but customers had questions.

“I think the message became unclear within the industry with regard to what is iBiomatics’ role and what is SAS’s role,” Neuville said. “After many discussions [with SAS CEO Jim Goodnight], it made complete sense based on the areas of the company that our product was hitting and the breadth of the SAS products within the industry that these products should become SAS products.”

Following the restructuring, iBiomatics will remain a SAS subsidiary and will continue to provide web-based hosting for SAS’s pharmaceutical clients. Neuville said that iBiomatics’ 20 current customers would see no disruption in service during the transition.

While many details of the restructuring have yet to be determined, some of the iBiomatics staff will join the growing genomics applications division within SAS. Russ Wolfinger, director of the genomics division, said that his current staff of four would at least double as a result of the iBiomatics spin-in.

“iBiomatics’ main focus has been on the clinical area, but they do have a small genomics contingent and it looks like they’ll be merging in with my genomics group here within SAS proper,” Wolfinger said. The division is focusing on developing genomic data analysis tools and is readying its first product — a series of analytical routines to process DNA marker data called SAS/Genetics — for market.

Wolfinger said the influx of talent from iBiomatics would be a welcome addition to the group’s commercialization efforts. “[iBiomatics was] primarily focusing on warehousing aspects, whereas my group has been focused more on the analytical and statistical side, so it should be a good combination,” he said.

“We’re looking for potential customers who might be interested in this combination of analytics and warehousing,” Wolfinger added.

Neuville noted that the move is a win-win for both SAS and iBiomatics. “For all the work that the iBiomatics people have done, it’s a good thing that those efforts will be continued, multiplied and backed by SAS. And the work that iBiomatics has done in this niche area provides SAS with a competitive advantage within the biopharmaceutical marketplace.”

The companies expect the transition to be complete by the end of the year. — BT

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