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Will Dracup, Managing Director, Nonlinear Dynamics

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BSc in Economics.

Worked in software engineering for five years before establishing Nonlinear Dynamics.

Interests include motorsport and kick boxing.

QWhere will bioinformatics be in the next 5 years?

AThe explosion of data being generated from all quarters of the life science community is well documented and is accelerating. The permutations arising from genetic polymorphisms, gene regulation, differential expression, complex protein-protein interactions, and biochemical pathways — the scale of the “map” that biologists are looking at — is mind-boggling. Bioinformatics will play the crucial role in bringing this all together and making sense of it. That should keep us busy for the next five years, probably the next 50!

QWhat are the biggest challenges the bioinformatics sector faces?

AIn biology we are looking at a vast collection of data, in which very small differences can lead to disproportionate changes. For example, there is only a one percent difference between the DNA of humans and that of chimpanzees. That’s less information than a laptop can store in RAM making the difference between poking sticks at ant hills for grubs and Leonardo painting the Sistine Chapel. We’ve obviously got a lot to learn from this staggering efficiency, and bioinformatics lies at the center of looking at this enormous picture and presenting it in an intelligible way.

QWho are your current customers?

AWe have sold over 5,000 licenses worldwide to all the major pharmas, many biotech companies and research institutes, plus a large number of universities.

QWhat non-existing technology is number one on your customers’ wish list?

AI read and liked Steve Lincoln’s [CSO of InforMax] answer on this one in a previous Q&A [BioInform 05-07-01] — customers want a button they can push that will deliver validated drug targets and maybe a Nobel or two. Shorter term, we see ever-expanding requirements for automation and for products complying with the FDA’s 21 CFR Part 11 regulations.

QWhat is the company’s annual revenue? Are you profitable?

AWe’re not a public company so we don’t quote figures, but I can say we are definitely profitable, even over the 12-year lifetime of the company. So far this year we are above our profit targets, even though we’re in the process of increasing staff levels by well over 50 percent.

QWhere does the company’s financing come from?

AWe do have venture capital money, but we fund the bulk of our growth from retained earnings.

QCan bioinformatics companies exist as independent entities?

ADefinitely — we’re doing it, as are others. However, true independence only comes with profitability. The amount of venture capital available in this field is to be applauded, but there are a lot of companies out there burning their way through mountains of cash. When that cash runs out, which it will if they can’t achieve profitability, often the only way out is to merge or be acquired.

QWhat products do you have in the development pipeline?

AProgenera will be the next product to emerge, in early 2002. This is a bioinformatics database engine for the integration, interrogation, mining, and analysis of genomic and proteomic data streams, primarily focusing on expression data. We believe that we have a unique perspective on linking these two data streams from our position as a vendor supplying analysis tools to both markets. We also seem to be the only company targeting protein expression analysis building product scalable enough to cope with the coming flood of data.

QWhat made you decide to enter a career in bioinformatics?

AI came at this from a computing background and found the challenges of image analysis in the life sciences too fascinating to resist. The scope of what we do at Nonlinear has since grown naturally into bioinformatics. Having been doing this for over 12 years now, I feel very lucky to have been involved in the right field at the right time — newer, bigger and more interesting problems are emerging as quickly as we can answer the old ones!

 

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