Taking a page from Reese’s peanut butter cups, Teranode of Seattle has combined two popular informatics technologies — workflow software and pathway analytics — into a single platform.
Whether the two approaches really do taste great together — or just represent the flavor of the month — will be up to the marketplace, but early signs indicate that Teranode is onto something. The company, founded in 2002, launched the first version of its software last February, and already claims 12 customers, including Amgen, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and the NIH National Chemical Genomics Center.
This week, Teranode will release an upgraded version of its platform to advance what it calls “analytic design automation” — a term that describes its hybrid approach to computational workflow and model-based analysis.
The launch is two-pronged. The company is releasing Teranode Design Suite (TDS) 2.5 — a new version of its flagship desktop product for creating and visualizing biological models — as well as a new Pathway Analytics “template” that combines several of the company’s offerings into a pre-configured product for pathway-based research.
“We see more and more groups being formed around either systems biology or pathway discovery … within large biotechs and pharmas,” said Matthew Shanahan, chief marketing officer of Teranode. “What we’re starting to see in the pathway analytics area is that people actually want to do experimental data management in conjunction with their pathway analysis, and that they need a way to manage the collaboration between the labs.”
TDS 2.5 is the culmination of two development partnerships that Teranode announced in the fall, with the KEGG pathway database and The MathWorks [BioInform 11-29-04]. The new version of the software allows users to import more than 18,000 pathway models from KEGG, and merge these models with their own experimental data. This addresses one of the primary limitations of KEGG, according to Shanahan — the “read-only” aspect of the resource. With KEGG, Shanahan said, “you can look at the model, but you can’t use it; you can’t map your experimental data to it at all. It’s great to look at the data in one window and the model in another window, but what you really want to do is match those together and see how your data is expressed in the model.”
In addition, the new version of the company’s software provides a drag-and-drop interface to The MathWorks’ Matlab modeling language. Researchers can build biological models using a simple palette of icons, and the software automatically translates the visual model into a Matlab program that can be shared between — and understood by — both computational and bench biologists.
Shanahan said that this capability is already paying off at AstraZeneca. “The computational biologists kept publishing programs written in Matlab, and the laboratory biologists didn’t understand them. So what they’re using now is Teranode Design Suite to exchange model information back and forth and optimize what they were doing, and they dramatically reduced the number of experiments they had planned to do and really accelerated their overall research project as a result of that.”
Shanahan was unable to provide details on the “actual numbers” behind AstraZeneca’s productivity improvements, but said “the ROI was really substantial and has given us great traction inside the company.”
Pricing for TDS 2.5 starts at $1,000.
In addition, the company is launching the second in a series of so-called Teranode Solutions, which combine the Teranode Design Suite, the Teranode Model Server, solution-specific protocol or biological models, and solution-specific equipment integration. The release of the Pathway Analytics Solution follows the launch of the company’s Reagent Production Solution in December. Similar products targeted toward sample processing and high-throughput screening are planned for rollout later this year.
Pathway Analytics is configured for integration with in-house systems biology data and software, and also includes integration libraries for microarray and high-throughput screening data. Using TDS as a front end, researchers can view experimental data generated across the organization within the context of their biological models.
Pricing for Teranode Pathway Analytics begins at $75,000, with a 50-percent discount for non-profit groups and academic institutions.
Shanahan said that Teranode’s platform addresses “the life cycle of experimentation.” Scientists currently generate a hypothesis, plan their experiment, run the experiment, manage the protocol, analyze the data, and then assess how well this information supports their predictions. Based on these findings, most scientists tweak their hypotheses and start over again in an iterative pattern. The problem for many labs, Shanahan said, is that they must rely on a series of LIMS, statistical packages, visualization tools, databases, and modeling tools to bring the cycle full circle.
“We’re focused on being one tool that’s able to carry you through all of that,” he said.
But with a goal this ambitious, is the 25-person company biting off more than it can chew? Shanahan acknowledged that it will be difficult to convince customers that Teranode’s platform delivers on its broad promise. However, he said, as a 10-year veteran of Documentum, he’s been through this before. “Documentum was coming out with document management software, and we had included in it some workflow, and some search and some configuration management. But at the time, everybody thought that was a separate product — you don’t put that in with the library management. So we had the same challenge at that time, which was making sure that we identified application areas that we would sell to that actually required both.”
In Teranode’s case, he said, the company’s marketing strategy relies on its solution configurations, which act as “templates that allow us to easily deploy this platform in specific solutions” — and thereby gain a foothold across several market segments. As an example, he said, the NIH Chemical Genomics Center and Pfizer signed on for the company’s Reagent Production Solution, while Amgen, AstraZeneca, and MIT chose the Pathway Analytics product. But these specialized configurations act as entryways by which customers can access all the platform’s capabilities, Shanahan said.
Teranode is marketing its platform as a new approach to pathway analysis — one that allows customers to manage the experimental data used to build biological pathways while also allowing them to build and share their own biological models.
“Most of the first-generation [pathway] tools … have been view-only tools of curated content, and what people are saying is that they’re developing their own systems biology information and they need a system to manage that information,” Shanahan said.
While admitting that “the first-generation solutions had the immediate traction,” Shanahan said that Teranode ought to be able to catch up to the early movers in the pathway space. “Ingenuity probably has more customers than we do, but we would expect to see that change pretty dramatically over the next year,” he said.