Sequenom said this week that it has enlisted Tata Consultancy Services, an IT outsourcing firm based in India, in an effort to redesign the informatics platform that accompanies its MassArray DNA-analysis platform.
Sudipto Sur, director of R&D informatics and systems at Sequenom, told BioInform that the company has an in-house informatics team of around 10 people. The company opted to outsource development for its new framework so that its current informatics staff could continue to focus on servicing customers and supporting existing systems.
“The issue that comes up is that when you want to do something as big as an architecture change, how do you actually maintain the software products that you already have, because it’s not really an option to just stop development on those,” he said. “So this was a way for us to bring about a next-generation software framework without impacting our current support for our customers.”
TCS has a team of around 40 people in its life sciences R&D division, which is based at its Advanced Technology Center in Hyderabad.
Under the terms of the agreement, Sequenom has licensed the genomics module of TCS’s BioSuite, a package of more than 170 life science informatics routines organized into eight modules. TCS will also develop new modules to integrate data from Sequenom’s MassArray with other bioinformatics databases and tools.
The result, Sur said, will be more a more flexible informatics framework for Sequenom customers.
“Right now, customers are able to collect the data, and in the genotyping case, they’re able to get an answer on the genotype, which involves a lot of signal processing, and then a call that our software makes based on that signal processing,” he said. “With the new framework development that we’re doing with TCS, that is going to allow us to deal with this at a higher level, so the answers that we provide to them will be more contextual to their particular context.”
The agreement will also free up Sequenom’s informatics staff “to develop better algorithms for the signal processing, which is in the guts of the software,” he said.
M Vidyasagar, executive vice president and head of the TCS Advance Technology Center, described the proposed framework as “a kind of high-level programming environment where the Sequenom engineers could themselves write further applications if they wanted to.” Longer term, he said, users will also be able to use the framework to write routines for the MassArray system.
“The issue that comes up is that when you want to do something as big as an architecture change, how do you actually maintain the software products that you already have, because it’s not really an option to just stop development on those.”
Clarke Neumann, a Sequenom spokesperson, said that the new informatics framework is a key step in the company’s goal of expanding the range of applications for the MassArray platform. “It’s pretty important, in terms of the new applications that we’ve developing, and in terms of having a platform that is more flexible and adaptable to new applications, and in terms of being more helpful to users in terms of workflow, simplicity, and data storage,” he said.
The new software platform will also be designed to comply with regulatory standards – a crucial requirement for the company’s plans to extend the reach of MassArray into diagnostics. “The whole issue of diagnostics is making sure that the software is compliant, so that’s pretty important,” Sur said.
In a statement, Sequenom Harry Stylli said the software platform is a “foundational” element in the company’s “planned diagnostic initiatives and regulatory compliance efforts.”
As for TCS, the agreement with Sequenom is the company’s first OEM deal with a life science instrument vendor, though TCS has a number of similar agreements in other domains, such as banking and insurance, Vidyasagar said. “We may wind up with some others, but let’s wait and see how it goes,” he said.
“Bioinformatics software as a standalone activity is not going to be very lucrative for anybody, so our idea for bioinformatics is that it’s a means to an end and not an end in itself,” he said. He said TCS expects to “derive a lot of legitimacy from offering our solutions to various companies like Sequenom.”
He noted that the company’s life science group also offers computational services for lead identification and optimization, ADME-tox prediction, and other early discovery projects.