NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The UK's Genome Analysis Center (TGAC) and its partners have received a £150,000 (about $230,000) investment from the Norwich Research Park Translational Fund to support three projects that aim to develop three bioinformatics tools for research and clinical use from concept through to commercialization.
TGAC is co-developing the solutions with UK-based Repositive and the Institute of Food Research. TGAC is partnering with Repositive to develop Façade, an open source web interface that will be coupled with the Repositive.io platform. Repositive, a spinout from UK-based charity DNAdigest, provides a portal for exploring genomic data and making datasets visible and accessible for research collaborations.
According to the partners, the combined solution will offer users access to heterogenous and distributed sources of genomic data and offer easy-to-use visualization tools to explore the data to better identify the genetic causes of diseases and traits. The developers believe that tool could be a boon for governments seeking to make DNA sequencing part of mainstream healthcare as well as for research and pharmaceutical organizations, all of whom generate large quantities of sequence data from large-scale studies that they need to manage and analyze.
The NRP funds will also support two collaborative projects involving TGAC and the Institute of Food Research (IFR). For the first project, the partners will continue developing a cloud-based systems biology software called OmiX Navigator that will enable researchers to integrate diverse omics datasets such as genomic, proteomic, and transcriptomic datasets. The platform will include advanced visualization tools, multi-layered databases, data integration and evaluation solutions, network analytical tools, and workflow management platforms.
Tamás Korcsmáros, a computational biology fellow at TGAC and research leader at IFR, told GenomeWeb that development on Navigator began in 2010. Between 2010 and 2013, the project received £110,000 in funding from a Hungarian innovation grant and a European Union Regional Development Fund grant. Korcsmáros, who is also Navigator's project leader and CEO of Hungary-based firm BioNav, said that those funds were used to develop a prototype solution that included features such as simple tools for handling and integrating varied and complex biomedical datasets as well as tools for finding novel drug targets and supporting network pharmacology needs. However, "in its current content and status Navigator is not specific and concrete enough to be a successful new software in the market," he said in an email.
Meanwhile, TGAC had developed a number of specific algorithms and approaches that by themselves would have limited business potential, he said. In order to move those applications into the marketplace, it made sense to combine them with the general visualization, data integration and workflow management capabilities that Navigator offers to provide a more comprehensive solution that would better fit existing research needs.
TGAC and BioNav signed an agreement that gives BioNav exclusive licensing rights to OmiX Navigator. The partners plan to make the first iteration of the tool available as a web service in spring 2016. Korcsmáros told GenomeWeb that the partners plan to launch a beta in January next year that will offer members of industry and academia the opportunity to test the product prior to launch. So far, he said, about 20 groups have expressed interest in testing the solution. These include the European Bioinformatics Institute, a number of European universities, small pharmaceutical companies, and distributors of medium-scale pharma companies, he said. Potential commercialization options and pricing models are still being discussed, he said.
A second TGAC-IFR collaboration will develop the Natural Lead Structure Suggestion Tool (NaLeSST), a computational tool that will help researchers identify and select drug compounds that would be potential candidates for further research and development.
Wiktor Jurkowski, NaLeSST co-project lead and group leader of integrative genomics at TGAC, said in a statement that NaLeSST grew out of the collaborators' experiences in cheminformatics molecular modeling as well as a shared interest in tapping the potential of natural compounds.
"For any target molecule, NaLeSST can automatically suggest potential lead structures as starting points for corresponding drug development, cutting short the dominating costly expert-driven research," he said in a statement. "We believe that such a resource would become a choice tool for companies dealing with early-stage drug research and development, in particular, searching for new routes to identify active leads."
The funds for these projects are drawn from a larger pot of money — about £1.8 million in total — set aside by the Norwich Research Park (NRP) to support translational activities conducted by the academic research institutions affiliated with the Park, Kenny Lang, business development director for the NRP, told GenomeWeb.
The NRP came into existence over a decade ago with six partner organizations all co-located on the same site including TGAC. Today, in addition to those organizations there are now over 40 companies affiliated with the Park, according to Lang. The NRP's focus has also shifted over time, he said. Historically, the Park has largely focused on supporting more research-centric projects but has recently turned its attention towards moving the fruits of those projects into the commercial domain and making them more broadly available. To that end, Lang said, the NRP translational fund was established about 12 months ago with support from the BBSRC. So far, the NRP has given small grants to about 12 pre-commercial efforts including the TGAC projects, he said.
Among other reasons, Lang said that the TGAC projects were selected for funding because of their intent to develop simple-to-use software programs and tools that will be useful to wet lab biologists to make sense of their data, as well as their emphasis on using existing open source software. Furthermore, the partnership between TGAC and the IFR is the sort of collaborative effort "that we are particularly keen to promote," he said. "TGAC in itself is a very prestigious institution and on its own is doing outstanding work but what we like to see is collaboration."