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A Second Home -- and Business Model -- for Physiome s Pathway Software

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BioSoftware Systems may be less than a year old, but it’s entering the competitive pathway analysis software market with a well-established technology. Last year, the Camden, NJ-based startup acquired rights to resell Physiome Sciences’ PathwayPrism software as part of a new package called BioPathway Explorer. So far, the three-person firm has licensed the revamped software to an undisclosed pharmaceutical company and several universities, and is in discussions with a number of other potential customers, said Ned Haubein, senior product developer at BioSoftware Systems.

Haubein — who worked at Physiome before the company was acquired by Predix Pharmaceuticals last August — said that BioSoftware Systems has non-exclusive rights to PathwayPrism. While several other licensees are using the technology for in-house projects, BioSoftware Systems is the only licensee that is able to resell the software worldwide, he said. In addition, BioSoftware Systems can claim as its own IP any modifications or enhancements that it makes to the software.

The company is rounding out its offering with a portfolio of algorithms from the GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception) lab at the University of Pennsylvania. BioSoftware Systems has an exclusive license to these algorithms, which were developed for analyzing hybrid systems — dynamic systems that are continuous at some levels and discrete at others. While these algorithms were developed with an eye toward robotics applications, they are also applicable to biological processes such as cell cycle control. Haubein said the university was looking for an opportunity to license the technology, and enlisted the help of Bob Thorn, a software industry veteran who worked for IBM for 25 years. Thorn paired up the Penn algorithms with the PathwayPrism front end to create BioSoftware Systems, and now serves as the company’s CEO.

The company secured an undisclosed amount of funding from Philadelphia-based venture capital firm Murex Investments, and has set up shop in the Rutgers Camden Business Incubator, a 20,000-square-foot facility in Camden, NJ, that offers “affordable” office space and broadband access, Haubein said. Thorn, Haubein, and Peter Coupe, the company’s director of sales and marketing, are the only full-time employees, although the firm maintains close ties with Penn faculty members Vijay Kumar and Harvey Rubin and also brings in former Physiome developers on a consulting basis.

The company also has a strong connection to the BioAnalytics Group, another startup founded by former Physiome staffers. The BioAnalytics Group is building its Model-Based Assays platform on Physiome technology that was licensed from Predix. In March, the BioAnalytics Group and BioSoftware Systems formed a strategic partnership that makes BioPathway Explorer the user interface for Model-Based Assays [BioInform 03-29-04].

Haubein said that his company plans to extend its network of partners, and is currently “in discussions with a number of companies that provide pathway content.” The field of pathway analysis is growing ever more crowded, but Haubein said that most companies working in this area are not a competitive threat. “Some companies take some data from the literature, perform some experiments, do some bioinformatics, and end up with a pathway. That’s where we want to start,” he said. “Our software allows you to study the pathway, add quantitative information, and ultimately do predictive modeling.”

The software provides a graphical interface for creating and editing pathways and for extracting relationships from expression data sets. Users can also import existing pathways using an API. A “reaction properties” dialog allows users to define reaction kinetics in order to run in silico experiments. The company has recently added the capability to import SBML models in an effort to become more standards compliant, Haubein said, and is also adding more “advanced” features based on the Penn algorithms.

While many of BioPathway Exporer’s capabilities may seem familiar to users of PathwayPrism, BioSoftware Systems is setting out on a different commercialization path than Physiome Sciences. Not only is BioPathway Explorer “an order of magnitude lower in price” than PathwayPrism was, but the company is avoiding the complex royalty-bearing research collaboration model that Physiome pursued, Haubein said. BioPathway Explorer is a desktop software tool that’s “ready out of the box,” he said. “You can have it running in 15 minutes.”

The software is “priced to get users,” Haubein said, in the range of hundreds of dollars for academic users and in the thousands for commercial customers.

— BT

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