Scimagix broke new ground when it launched in 1998, coining the phrase “image informatics” — the storage, management, and retrieval of biological images — and claiming the field as its own. At the time, the company faced little competition for its SIMS (Scientific Image Management System) platform, which focused on images from pathology studies and 2D gels.
But with the recent rise in popularity of high-content cell-based screening, Scimagix lost a bit of ground as specialists in the field introduced their own image management solutions. Cellomics, for example, offers the ArrayScan screening platform as well as a suite of software tools for analyzing and managing the huge number of images that a typical HCS experiment can generate. According to some estimates, these platforms can generate up to 300,000 images in a single day, and a typical high-content screening experiment can generate around a quarter of a terabyte of data in one run.
Scimagix is now hoping to make up some of this lost time with the release of CellMine HCS, an “instrument-agnostic” image management application for cell-based assay data. So far, the company has modified the software to work with the Discovery-1 screening system from Molecular Devices and the InCell 1000 and InCell 3000 systems from GE Healthcare. Last week, Scimagix said that it had completed its “first installations” of CellMine HCS, but did not disclose the identities of its customers.
“The customers are providing us with the assays that they’re interested in, and basically describing their issues in terms of being able to pull all this data together, and we have access to the file structure that underlies the way the InCell 3000 and now the InCell 1000 stores the information away, and we are beginning the process of extracting the information from [those] file structures,” Michael Cosgrove, director of enterprise systems at Scimagix, told BioInform. In the case of the Discovery-1 system, he said, “we work closely with Molecular Devices to basically do a transfer from their database to ours.”
Cosgrove said that Scimagix is in discussions with several other HCS instrument providers about integrating the software with additional platforms. “We’re trying to be as open and as flexible as we can be, such that if customers want to have a heterogeneous environment, and mix and match these instruments — which a lot of them do want to do — then they can use our system … as a means of pulling all that data together without the resulting confusion that you get without this type of solution,” he said.
This openness should give Scimagix an advantage over competitors like Cellomics, he said. “Our understanding is that they are still primarily focused on supporting the ArrayScan. I’m really not aware of what capabilities they’re claiming to have in terms of being able to being open to any and all systems out there,” he said
Cellomics is also working with GE Healthcare on developing an HCS image management solution. A GE Healthcare spokesperson could not be reached prior to publication to clarify the extent of the company’s partnership with Scimagix.
If Cosgrove’s estimates are right, there may be plenty of room in the HCS image informatics sector for several players. “This whole area of high-content cellular screening is growing. … We certainly believe it’s one of the areas that’s going to develop within drug discovery over the next couple of years,” he said.
“Traditionally our areas have been within pathology, ADME-tox — those types of areas wherever you’re using standard microscopy to generate a variety of types of images, and that continues to be a very strong business. But clearly the volume of images that are being generated with high-content cellular work is an order of magnitude — several orders of magnitude — above that,” he said.