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UK's BioWisdom Builds on Lion's SRS Tech by Acquiring US-Based OmniViz; Plans More M&A

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BioWisdom this week announced that it had acquired Maynard, Mass.-based data-visualization firm OmniViz. The purchase, which follows BioWisdom’s acquisition of Lion Bioscience’s bioinformatics business last year, is an important step in the firm’s broader acquisition strategy, a company official told BioInform.
 
BioWisdom’s purchase of Lion’s SRS assets last April for around $5 million [BioInform 04-07-06] “was the first of what we anticipate will be a series of M&A activities that will help us build on a steadily growing revenue base,” Gordon Smith Baxter, CEO of BioWisdom, said this week. “We’ll also be able to build through acquisitions and mergers a more robust and appealing software offering,” he said.
 
The acquisition of privately held OmniViz not only adds a key data-visualization platform to BioWisdom’s growing software portfolio, but also gives the Cambridge, UK-based company a home base in the Boston area. All 13 of OmniViz’s employees will join BioWisdom, bringing the company’s total headcount to 47.
 
Jeff Saffer, president and CEO of OmniViz, will serve as president of BioWisdom’s US operations.
 
“The US base is important,” Baxter said. “Most of our customers are based in the US, so having people on the ground there helps us support that business.”
 
Baxter said that BioWisdom previously had one salesman in the US, and the OmniViz acquisition will add four more US-based sales staff.
 
Privately held BioWisdom uses its Sofia technology platform to develop custom biomedical ontologies that it calls “intelligence networks.” Prior to its acquisition of Lion’s SRS business last year, BioWisdom followed a services-based business model, in which it worked with pharmaceutical partners to extract data and assemble it into ontologies to improve decision-making. Now, however, the firm is pursuing a hybrid model of software, services, and content.
 
“SRS and OmniViz have turned us into a real software company,” Baxter said.
 
Visualizing a Merger
 
OmniViz’s Saffer told BioInform that the merger brings together two complementary technology platforms.
 
The OmniViz technology was developed to mine and visualize very large, heterogeneous data sets, including numeric data, genomic sequences, chemical structures, and text documents. “What OmniViz was missing was the ability to extract specific relationships — rather, we focused on high-level perspectives,” Saffer said.
 
BioWisdom, on the other hand, “has cutting-edge methods for doing relationship extractions … but they lacked the ability to do visualization and other types of data mining,” he said.
 
“Both organizations were eying this sort of activity as a key step in development,” Saffer said, “and it just made sense to put these companies together.”
 

“SRS and OmniViz have turned us into a real software company.”

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. OmniViz is a spin-out of non-profit research center Battelle Memorial Institute and the merger makes Battelle BioWisdom’s third-largest shareholder following MB Ventures and Merlin Biosciences.
 
The firms have a number of large pharma clients in common, but BioWisdom’s Baxter noted that their target users have historically been different, even within the same company. OmniViz, like Lion’s SRS, is primarily used in early discovery, while BioWisdom’s technology is used further downstream — in safety assessment, biomarker discovery, animal model selection, and identifying alternate indications for compounds in the pipeline or on the market.
 
Baxter said that BioWisdom doesn’t have immediate plans to integrate the OmniViz technology with its Sofia platform or SRS “in terms of having a consistent code base.” The goal, he said, “is to appeal to a very broad audience within the pharmaceutical industry or within the healthcare industry.”
 
This approach gives customers a choice, he said. “OmniViz clients may want to just use OmniViz technology, but powered with our language and ontologies and taxonomies that we use to fuel our data-acquisition process, that system gets much more powerful,” he said. “On the other hand, we can use the OmniViz visualization technology to allow our customers to visualize the intelligence networks that we create.”
 
As far as future acquisitions, Baxter said that BioWisdom is looking for technologies that can help it fulfill its goal of providing “comprehensive, unbiased information to decision-makers in the industry.” The company is particularly focused on safety risk assessment, for which it is developing a massive database of toxicity for all known compounds “in every cell, tissue, or organ in any species.”
 
Baxter said that BioWisdom has identified a number of M&A “opportunities,” and is in “mid-stage discussions” with several prospective targets, though he declined to provide further details. 

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