AT A GLANCE: BSc in paleontology and zoology from the University of Wales, MSc in biochemistry from the University of Kent at Canterbury, PhD in molecular biology from the University of Edinburgh. Co-developed the MPSRCH suite of programs with John Collins, director of research and development at EBS. Interests include music and home cinema systems.
QWhat are the biggest challenges the bioinformatics sector faces?
ABioinformatics is just a small part of the whole computational biology sector. I really think there should be a better name for what we do. I also believe we need to get away from the whole packaged applications approach and get down to the hard work of educating young biologists in programming skills so that they can use computers to solve their own problems. Biologists should be developing software rather than leaving it only to computer geeks.
QWhat do you see as the most important task for bioinformatics to address beyond genome sequencing?
AThe sequencing projects are simply the beginning. Where we go from here depends on individual scientists and what they choose to do with the data. Clearly, new computational biology tools will be needed, but this is a difficult question for me to answer because, as I’ve said, the idea of prescriptive, packaged solutions is so foreign to the way we do things at EBS. EBS has grown out of the Unix philosophy of developing individual tools that can be easily combined into larger solutions.
QWho are your current customers?
AMPSRCH has already found wide use around the world with our previous generation products. Now, the new version has expanded this base and allowed us to work with a broader range of customers. We have provided custom turnkey solutions to small academic units and biotech companies and, for organizations with large, high-throughput and multi-processing requirements, we often implement the MPSRCH 4 program onto existing hardware.
QWith what companies do you have partnerships?
AWe have a particularly strong relationship with Compaq (this goes back to the old Digital days due to our connections with MasPar, which was started by Digital people) and enjoy a valuable partnership with Sun.
QDo you see yourself more as a software provider or as a consultant?
AWe are all biologists and we have developed solutions to problems in which have had direct experience. I would say EBS is a little of both.
QWhere does the company’s financing come from?
AEBS was kicked-off by a fellowship award that I received from the Royal Society of Edinburgh/Scottish Enterprise. Private investors, experienced in the life science and high-technology sectors, continue to back the company. As well as future funding from specialist investment funds, we are already seeing significant sales revenue.
QDo you expect to see more M&A activity in the sector? Can bioinformatics companies exist as independent entities?
AI do expect that bigger companies will continue to absorb smaller ones in an effort to maintain their positions. I don''t think this is a bad thing. Many start-up companies have limited resources, and it can be difficult to meet the demands of the global market as a small organization. I would also say that bioinformatics is a good market in which to be small. Electronic communication has become more and more powerful, allowing products and services to be delivered and well supported over the Internet.
QWhat made you decide to become a bioinformaticist?
AI didn''t; I''m a computational biologist! Seriously, I was always keen on computing but saw it as the means to an end rather than an end in itself. Biology just happens to have some very interesting problems to which computing must be applied.