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Shhhhh...Celera Is Still In the Data Business: New CDS Release Aimed at Academic Users

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Despite all proclamations to the contrary over the past year, Celera Genomics is still in the data business. Last week, the company released Celera Discovery System 3.8, reaffirming its goal to serve as the genomics community’s definitive information source, a role that the company’s upper management has tended to downplay since it launched full speed into drug discovery last year.

But the truth is that data is still paying Celera’s rent: While the company’s total revenues of $22.9 million for the last quarter were down from $35 million for the year-ago period, revenues for the online business increased year-over-year, from $17.3 million to $20.3 million. As a percentage of total revenues, the online business brought in 89 percent of the company’s quarterly revenues, compared with 49 percent in the year-ago period. Celera said it expects to bring in $85 million to $95 million from existing CDS subscriptions in the 2003 fiscal year.

Of course, the genomics database market has changed quite a bit over the past year, and Celera’s sister company Applied Biosystems, which now markets CDS, hasn’t lost sight of that fact: The company revamped the academic subscription model for CDS in a bid to attract a larger share of the academic and non-profit user base. In addition, the company isn’t touting Celera’s proprietary data as the primary selling point for the new release. According to Tony Kerlavage, senior director of bioinformatics applications management at Celera, the “key differentiator” between CDS and other options lies in value-added features such as high-quality curation, the aggregation of more than 40 additional data sources, and the seamless integration of that additional data with the company’s genomic information.

“For us it’s not really an issue of proprietary sequence data anymore. That was the old story, when obviously we were bringing data to our customers much sooner than they could get it in the public domain.” said Kerlavage. “For us now, our focus is on quality.”

According to Kerlavage, that quality comes in several forms, including expert curated mouse transcripts, transcription factor binding sites mapped onto the human genome, the ability to view syntenic information between human and mouse, 4,000 additional protein families and 12,000 subfamilies in the Panther protein classification library, and links to key publications related to the structure and function of genes and gene products.

On the tool side, the CDS map viewer has been enhanced to enable the mouse/human syntenic view, Kerlavage said, and Celera partnered with Lion Bioscience to add several Emboss tools for sequence manipulation and protein analysis. In addition, CDS now offers a batch Blast option so users can upload multiple sequences into the search engine.

Keep it Simple, Celera

A key feature of the new CDS is a drastically lowered barrier to entry for academic and non-profit subscribers. ABI decided to drop its “complex, multi-user, multi-year” subscription pricing system in favor of a no-nonsense single-user, one-year model, Kerlavage said. Subscribers can sign up directly through the CDS website, making the purchasing process far less complicated.

At $2,000 per user per year, the flat fee is “comparable” on a per-user basis to the old model, Kerlavage said, but noted that the primary benefit of the new system is its compatibility with academic grant cycles. In some cases, Kerlavage said, potential subscribers “really wanted to subscribe to the product but were finding it difficult to do a three-year commitment when that didn’t mesh with their grant cycles.”

A CDS fact sheet from ABI noted that a similar one-year, single-user subscription model “is planned in the near future” for commercial subscribers, but Kerlavage indicated that the commercial version may not be quite as simple as the academic model. “The terms between academic and commercial licenses do differ. We’re constantly looking at how to improve both the academic and commercial offering, but at this point in time the commercial offering is quite different than just the straight CDS license.” One difference, for example, is that most commercial CDS subscribers already have site licenses, making the transition to a single-user model a bit trickier.

“With this launch right now, our current goal is to attract individual academic scientists,” Kerlavage noted. “We’re really trying to make this widely accessible to academic users worldwide.”

As the market continues to question the value of commercial genomics databases, the rest of the bioinformatics sector will certainly be watching to see if Celera’s plan pays off.

— BT

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