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Sigma-Aldrich Taps Ingenuity to Kick Up 'Favorite Gene' Web Search E-Commerce Tool

Ingenuity is making good on its name by spearheading one of the first partnerships with a top reagent shop by retooling an existing e-commerce solution.
Sigma-Aldrich is using Ingenuity’s pathway analysis knowledgebase to revamp its “My Favorite Gene” web tool. The partnership, announced last week, is a one-year enhancement project that will require approximately five to 10 staff from each company. Further terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The move follows a trend begun by Applied Biosystems, Invitrogen, and several RNAi companies that have taken a similar approach to use bioinformatics tools to enhance their e-commerce capabilities. Invitrogen, for example, has partnered with another pathway analysis shop, GeneGo, to develop a free tool that linked to specific reagents in its catalog [BioInform 06-27-05].
David Smoller, president of Sigma’s research biotech unit, told BioInform that the deal allows an expansion of Sigma’s existing solution from a purely content base to one of content and context.
He said that the company did not consider other pathway informatics shops in planning the project. “Ingenuity just seemed to be the standard in the industry for content,” he said, noting that “if you want diamonds, you go to Tiffany’s. Scientists at all the big pharma companies are subscribers.”
Ingenuity’s CEO Jake Leschly told BioInform that he hopes the partnership is a harbinger of what’s to come for the 100-person firm. “It’s definitely an exciting area … We think there are others who will need this type of solution.”
“There are probably hundreds to thousands of reagent vendors of various sizes, which means there are lots of people who’d want [our services] in the context of biology,” Leschly said.
Calling the partnership a “natural extension” of Ingenuity’s business, Leschly said there is a “mega trend where people are going to want to look at their biological experiments, they want to look at it in a systems biology view.”
Smoller explained that researchers will be able to draw relationships between genes and other biological data input into My Favorite Gene.
Currently, he said, customers order products from Sigma’s online catalog “based on the knowledge of the application — I am going to extract DNA, analyze a protein [for example].” However, he noted, “If I want to see all the products that will help me understand the cancer for [a] particular gene or products related to [a] particular gene, it would be great if I could just put in ‘BRCA1’ [for] gene expression, or measure the protein of that gene or be able to silence that gene,” Smoller said.

“It’s definitely an exciting area; we think there are others who will need this type of solution.”

That’s where the Ingenuity retooling comes in.
“The first step is to have context… [and we’ve already] done that with ‘Your Favorite Gene.’ It’s a step in which you can [take] the way people do research and see if they can purchase based on their research; and secondly, it exposes them to new technologies that they may not know,” Smoller said.
He added that if a researcher didn’t know Sigma had a product that measured the gene expression or the RNA level of a particular gene, “you would never have found it by going the normal [route] which is, ‘Hey, I am going to buy a DNA purification kit or a salt or a reagent.’”
Even so, both Smoller and Leschly agree there are limits to what the retooled web search tool will be able to do.
While designed to be interactive, and catering to what they believe is the scientist’s natural workflow, the new site will not enable deep research.
The new ‘Favorite Gene’ will allow the researcher to work in a biological context, developing much broader biological queries around disease, function, and pathways while searching for reagents. Even though they can use the site to develop hypotheses, however, it will not necessarily help them understand complex biological questions.
Sigma “doesn’t necessarily want people on their site doing biology, but just find things they are looking for,” Leschly said.

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