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Spotfire Signs Eli Lilly as Latest Customer, Eyes Early 2001 for Initial Public Offering


IN JULY, Spotfire of Cambridge, Mass., launched a new version of its desktop data analysis product and recently announced that pharmaceutical powerhouse Eli Lilly has signed on as its most recent new user.

Lilly, which expects 1,000 of its employees to use Spotfire products, is one of the company’s more than two-dozen pharmaceutical clients.

Meanwhile, Spotfire CEO Chris Ahlberg told BioInform that the company is preparing for an initial public offering on the Nasdaq exchange sometime next year. He declined to say how much the company hopes to raise, but said the money would be used for general corporate purposes.

Sources close to the company said the offering might be launched as early as January.

Ahlberg said that’s success stems in part from the portal’s ability to allow researchers throughout a company to engage in “parallel decision-making.”

“What’s happening in discovery is that more people are [working on] the same projects, working in parallel under much tighter timelines, and it’s become critical to be able to integrate information from multiple projects in a very timely manner,” said Ahlberg.

In addition, Ahlberg noted that pharmaceutical companies are moving away from the idea that they have to develop all of their software internally.

As the thinking on IT opens up in life sciences units, Spotfire is getting more involved with configuring systems according to its customers wishes. “People want to be able to buy software but at the same time, they want to be able to configure it to the way that they do business,” said Ahlberg. He cautioned that Spotfire does not do custom software development but does help with configuration work.

Lilly is an example of a customer that wanted the ability to have groups work together on decisions by sharing information across teams and facilities. It plans to rollout Spotfire’s full suite of decision analytics software at its research and development sites in Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“We were looking for something that we could deploy across our entire scientific research community – biologists, chemists, process chemists – and those capabilities Spotfire had,” said Sheldon Ort, an information officer at Lilly. He declined to name the other systems Lilly evaluated.

Ort explained that Spotfire gives Lilly a common foundation and toolkit that lets the company create virtual project teams that look at the same data in the same format.

Spotfire helps Lilly’s bioinformatics effort because it allows researchers to look at large data sets, giving scientists the ability to analyze expression-array data, change filtering criteria, and conduct “what if” analyses.

“It does this in a very well-organized interface that our bioinformatics people are very comfortable using,” said Ort.

Ort declined to discuss the terms of the Spotfire contract other than to say that Lilly signed a multi-year agreement.

Mike Akillian, Spotfire’s vice president of corporate marketing, said that is sold on a subscription basis at a cost of $2,000 per person per year, which includes 24-hour support. That price does not include add-on products like Array Explorer for gene expression analysis and Structure Visualizer, a data display application.

Akillian added that Spotfire has installed servers at many of its pharma customers so that its software can be accessed from inside a company’s firewall, which keeps proprietary data protected from unauthorized users.

Other Spotfire customers, including SmithKline Beecham, cited the software’s flexibility.

Frances Stewart, SmithKline’s associate director of cheminformatics, said the company uses as well as the Structure Visualizer and Array Explorer software. With this as a base, she said she can use to go to internal and external Web addresses to pull data and tools into the Spotfire environment. “You can add your own analytical components so that once you pull it up you can run statistics,” she said.

The company has used this capability to link proprietary algorithms to to check data quality on cDNA grids for microarray analysis. SKB’s biology group is currently testing this, said Stewart.

This could potentially do away with or at least reduce the need for a team to do data analysis for other scientists, allowing scientists to do it themselves, said Stewart.

“That’s the key reason that we decided to do this, to try to put some of the algorithms that have been written internally into an interface because there were bottlenecks. We had one group doing data analysis for all of the microarray stuff that was requested from biology and of course they couldn’t keep up,” she said.

Millennium Predictive Medicine’s Greg Tucker-Kellogg said that the Millennium subsidiary, much like other pharma and biotech units, uses Spotfire within drug discovery and related domains such as gene expression and high-throughput screening.

“The thing that makes Spotfire attractive, besides the fact that it’s really easy to use and powerful, is the fact that the same sorts of things that you can do with it in one area, you know the application so you can apply them in a different area,” said Tucker-Kellogg.

Besides data quality checks, the software can be used to accelerate target validation using gene expression, Tucker-Kellogg said. According to

Ahlberg, Spotfire competes with statistical analysis software vendors such as SAS, SPSS, and StatSoft.

—Matthew Dougherty

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