Tripos last week announced that it has launched an initiative to deploy web services as "an integral component" of its software development strategy.
The company will roll out the first product developed under this initiative — an application that will allow computational chemists and medicinal chemists to share virtual screening models — at the Drug Discovery Technology conference in August.
Tripos also plans to introduce several other new products at DDT, including an electronic lab notebook that it has been developing as part of a collaboration with Schering that began in 2001.
The web services initiative and the e-lab notebook product are part of a broader effort underway at Tripos to jumpstart growth in its discovery informatics business, which has recently come under new management. Bryan Koontz, formerly CEO of Optive Research, joined Tripos as vice president of marketing and corporate development when the company acquired Optive in January. In April, Koontz took the reins as senior vice president and general manager of the discovery informatics group, replacing Trevor Heritage, who left to join MDL as senior vice president of its new workflow business group [BioInform 05-09-05].
Discovery informatics is "a very mature software area, and if you look at most players in the space — Accelrys, us, everyone — it's been a struggle to really find big pops in revenue growth," Koontz said. "So it's clear that if companies like Tripos are going to continue to grow, they have to find ways to grow beyond the 4-7 percent growth rates that we're seeing in computational chemistry now." (See chart for details on Tripos quarterly revenue and growth rates.)
The drive to adopt web services — as well as other open standards -is one way that Tripos plans to address this challenge. "In addition to all the innovative science that people expect from Tripos, it's high time that we also get it when it comes to very flexible, open software architectures," Koontz said. "If it's much easier for people to access and use our science, then obviously they're going to want more of it."
Indeed, pharmaceutical companies have embraced web services as an effective way to integrate disparate applications and data sets. Bristol-Myers Squibb, for example, has developed an informatics framework using web services and a combination of vendor solutions, including SciTegic's Pipeline Pilot and the BioTeam's iNquiry [BioInform 05-16-05], and GlaxoSmithKline has been writing its own SOAP wrappers for custom applications that it is plugging into an informatics framework it is co-developing with InforSense and Spotfire [BioInform 05-23-05].
The Tripos initiative, which it has dubbed Service-Oriented Informatics, or SOI, will entail two key components that the company plans to release later this year: the Tripos Application Server, which will be based on open standards and will provide access to both Tripos and third-party discovery informatics web services; and the Tripos Informatics Web Services Toolkit, a set of wrappers for Tripos applications and "leading workflow and grid computing applications."
As far as what those workflow applications may be, Koontz said that while Tripos has not announced formal relationships with InforSense or SciTegic, the company is "actively engaged" at several joint customers with each vendor.
"Web services create a common ground for integration to work flow applications," he said. "So by Tripos creating web services out of all of our software, it makes it a real easy step to integrate with Pipeline Pilot or integrate with InforSense."
The primary goal, he said, is to make it easier for researchers to use the company's software. "We want to make sure that if a customer wants to use [Tripos'] Concord [chemical structure software] as a service, for example, they can do that. They don't have to go to some workstation, launch [the] SYBYL [molecular modeling environment], and just access Concord. That's silly."
"If it's much easier for people to access and use our science, then obviously they're going to want more of it."
In the case of the upcoming virtual screening product, web services will enable medicinal chemists to retrieve a docking model, and then make changes to the chemical structure and re-dock it without involving the computational chemist who initially created the model. This approach "eliminates a lot of cycle time, and it's very empowering to a medicinal chemist," Koontz said.
But the growth strategy at Tripos extends beyond the web services effort. Koontz said that the company also plans to "fill some gaps" in its flagship SYBYL platform, to ensure customers who are currently "rationalizing the number of software licenses they have" that the portfolio "[goes] everywhere from protein modeling and homology modeling to virtual screening to library design and so on."
Tripos also has some "forward-looking R&D" underway on new applications for the SYBYL portfolio, including "some next-generation virtual screening tools that just approach the problem from a completely different direction," Koontz said.
Additionally, the company plans to expand its customer base beyond the computational chemistry community that it has built around SYBYL with a new line of products it classifies under the heading of "laboratory informatics." This will include the upcoming e-lab notebook, as well as several other predictive chemistry tools directed toward laboratory scientists rather than computational experts.
This new product line will be structured as a "sister product portfolio" to SYBYL, Koontz said, and will incorporate the Benchware product line that Tripos picked up in its acquisition of Optive Research.
Finally, Tripos plans to work on building a "very strong partnership ecosystem" that includes IT vendors, providers of complementary software packages, and even "companies that have traditionally been considered enemies," Koontz said.
Longer term — beyond the two-year mark — Koontz said that the company may consider a more "aggressive" approach to building alliances, or even acquiring other firms "that would get us into other related categories."
Koontz noted that the life science informatics sector remains extremely fragmented, and that there are more software vendors than the current market can support — particularly in the areas of LIMS, electronic lab notebooks, and clinical trials management software. "There's some really good technology out there, so one could argue that there are opportunities for building on our core competencies in chemistry and life science product development and to, really, in the long run, build a software company that's viewed as a true product life cycle management company, with an emphasis on the life sciences vertical."
While acknowledging that Tripos is "pretty far away from that," Koontz said that the goal of creating a single company with an informatics framework that extends from early-stage discovery through to preclinical and clinical and portfolio management "is a pretty attractive scenario, and it's certainly something that we've got an eye towards."
— Bernadette Toner ([email protected] )