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Seeking to Build its Client Base, Maverix Launches Two Low-Cost Cloud-based Bioinformatics Offerings

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As part of an effort to expand its customer base, Maverix Biomics launched two new programs this week through which it intends to offer access to its cloud-based next-generation sequence data analysis and storage solution for free or at a discount.

The first of these are so-called “communities of discovery” that will provide access to datasets from particular organisms or around common research areas for free. The second is the Maverix Academic Grants for NGS Exploration Tools, or MAGNET, program, which will offer the company's cloud-based analysis services to approved academic and not-for-profit life sciences researchers at a reduced cost.

Both programs were launched at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, Calif., this week.

In an interview with BioInform, Maverix’s President and CEO, David Mandelkern, explained that the company sees both programs as avenues through which it can build its storage and analysis business.

It’s doing this by becoming a “destination” site for researchers looking for data about particular organisms or diseases, and by offering reduced pricing in exchange for exposure to the community, he explained.

Building Communities

The first scenario involves Maverix’s communities of discovery, which are built on the Maverix Analytic Platform, a cloud-based offering for next-generation sequence data management, exploration, and visualization that the company launched at the American Society for Human Genetics Conference last November (BI 11/9/2012).

Mandelkern said that idea came from a few of the company’s customers who were having trouble finding spaces large enough to hold their datasets or who were worried about losing access to paid storage when their grant monies run out.

Maverix offered to host the data and make it freely available to these clients “if they will lead the community around it and provide other data and insight and results around the analysis of the datasets,” he told BioInform.

Initial private trials proved “popular” and ultimately led to the launch of a community for tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) in conjunction with researchers from the US Department of Agriculture at the University of California, Berkeley, which provides free storage and access to published tomato datasets, Mandelkern said.

Participants in the community will have free access to the public datasets and free use of the UCSC Genome Browser which is integrated with the platform, but they will have to set up accounts and pay a fee if they want to run additional analysis, exploration, and visualization activities as well as if they want to upload and analyze their own data in the context of the public resources, the company said. Since both the public data and algorithms are already located in the Maverix cloud, Mandelkern expects most customers would rather stay with the company than try to download the data and move their analysis elsewhere.

“We are providing the open source algorithms and the pricing is reasonable [so] the bet that we are making is that [researchers] will want to do that analysis on that same platform,” he said.

Customers who want the additional services will be subject to the company’s regular pricing scheme, Mandelkern said. Maverix operates a pay-as-you-go pricing model that varies depending on the organism being analyzed, the size of the dataset, and the type of analysis that needs to be done. It does, however, offer discounts to academic and not-for-profit researchers.

Maverix hasn’t set any limits on the size of the datasets or the number of communities it is willing to set up, Mandelkern said. It also doesn’t have specific criteria for the nature of the datasets — it can be animals, microorganisms, or diseases — or the size of the community, although it does have to be of interest to more than one person or institution, he said.

Commenting on the new community she helped establish, Barbara Baker, a molecular geneticist at the USDA and an adjunct professor of plant and microbial biology at UC Berkeley, said that it “should enable new opportunities for collaboration in the field.”

“I'm impressed by how quickly they incorporated my lab's small RNA expression data within a new UCSC-style comparative genomics browser, and I eagerly look forward to comparing my expression profiles with other newly published sequencing data sets," she said in a statement.

Mandelkern said that the company plans to launch additional communities of discovery in other areas later this year, including one disease community and others for several animal species. It is also open to suggestions for new communities from current and potential customers.

The company believes its new offering will be ideal for international consortia to cooperatively annotate new genomes and will enable experts from around the world to view and update annotation interactively. It also offers optional private cloud environments, which provide higher levels of security for proprietary data.

'Bridging the Gap'

Meanwhile, the idea for the MAGNET grants program grew out of the realization that grant cycles could hamper the platform’s adoption by academic and not-for-profit researchers since they would have to wait until their funding requests were approved before they could pay for access.

“We came up with this as a way of bridging the gap between when the [researchers’] desire to start was there,” rather than “making them wait 6 to 12 months while they went through the grant funding process,” Mandelkern explained to BioInform.

Researchers who are accepted under the MAGNET program receive a set of Maverix’s services at a reduced price of $500 per month for up to six months with the possibility of a second six-month extension if they meet certain criteria such as publicly presenting their research or publishing a paper that mentions the use of Maverix platform in the methods section.

The services bundle — which represents a savings of more than 80 percent according to Maverix — will include storage for up to 1 terabyte of data, the creation of a de novo microbial genome browser with custom annotation and data tracks, or the ability to add new functional genomic data sets to an existing genome browser.

Through its grant program, Maverix aims to “promote the use of great open source tools by researchers in academia and other non-profit institutes who are swimming in under-explored data,” Todd Lowe, Maverix’s chief scientific officer said in a statement.

“We will also help bring the vast data scattered among countless specialized databases right to the user’s fingertips, presenting those most relevant to the user’s goals,” he said.

The company also views the program as an opportunity to get its name out to potential customers through papers and in public presentations at scientific conferences, Mandelkern said.

Interested researchers need to send a two-page abstract of their research project, as well as information about their affiliated academic institution or non-profit organization. There isn’t a specific deadline or cap on the number of grants; Maverix will review applications as they come in, Mandelkern said.

Maverix is continuing to make improvements to its platform and expects to release a new version later this year that will include several new features and enhancements to existing capabilities, Mandelkern said.

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