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Workflow Software Market Heats Up As InforSense Inks Enterprise Deal with GSK

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InforSense last week announced that it has signed an agreement with GlaxoSmithKline to develop an integrated discovery informatics architecture built on its KDE (Knowledge Discovery Environment) workflow technology.

Specific terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Yike Guo, CEO of InforSense, said that “a couple thousand” chemists across GSK will eventually use the system. Guo said that the financial value of the deal is at least $1 million.

The agreement serves as proof that demand for workflow software solutions is mounting within pharmaceutical R&D departments. These systems, which allow users to create their own data analysis pipelines by linking in-house and third-party applications, promise to tackle some of the thorny integration issues that continue to plague bioinformatics and cheminformatics groups. A number of companies, such as SciTegic (acquired by Acclerys in September), Incogen, and TurboWorx, are marketing products in this area. More recently, open source versions of these tools, such as the European Bioinformatics Institute’s Taverna, have also begun to emerge.

The deal also validates InforSense’s position in the emerging workflow market. Founded in 1999, the company initially targeted its workflow technology toward the bioinformatics community. More recently, however, InforSense has modified its product development and marketing strategy to address cheminformatics workflows — where SciTegic had already established a strong foothold. The GSK deal is not the first cheminformatics agreement for InforSense, but it is certainly the biggest. Guo said that the infrastructure will eventually extend beyond “traditional cheminformatics” to library design, high-throughput screening, toxicology, and even systems biology.

“My view is that this deal really reflects an industry requirement for cross-domain informatics integration,” Guo said. Likening KDE to “a discovery informatics operating system,” he said that the technology was developed to “support generic life science-discovery activities,” rather than to focus on one vertical application. However, “this is the first time we licensed across domains, across functions, across different applications.”

To be sure, GSK’s willingness to purchase a software-integration system may not necessarily reflect a broader trend among pharmaceutical informatics groups. In late October, GSK signed a data-integration agreement with GE Healthcare and GeneticXchange based on GeneticXchange’s DiscoveryHub software and spanning its genetics, discovery, and pre-clinical development R&D groups [BioInform 11-1-04]. GSK officials were not available to comment, but it’s clear from these recent deals that the company’s informatics integration strategy is weighted more heavily toward “buy” than it is toward “build.”

Guo believes that the workflow trend reaches well beyond GSK, however. “People are saying that [pharmas] are not spending much on IT, which may be true, but the most important thing is that they will spend more money to integrate, to consolidate the IT investments they already made,” he said.

In addition, Guo noted that the continued adoption of web services and grid computing within pharmaceutical informatics groups should feed naturally into a workflow environment, because “they need an infrastructure to unify [their computational resources] in a flexible and easy way.”

Guo also said that workflow technologies are well-suited to the corporate-wide knowledge-management systems that a number of pharmaceutical firms are beginning to implement. “Whenever you get a certain kind of research result, it’s important to not only know the result, but to also know the whole process of how this result was derived. So this kind of knowledge, which I call workflow, can be maintained as an enterprise knowledge asset,” he said.

Guo said that InforSense has “quite a few” additional pharmaceutical firms in its sales pipeline. “The pharmaceutical market is very important for us, and we are now getting into the heart of the marketplace,” he said.

In addition, the company is engaged in several new initiatives that it believes will give it a competitive edge.

Building on its development partnership with Oracle, InforSense is integrating KDE with the Oracle Healthcare Transaction Base in order to extend its platform to handle clinical data. “Integration, at the end of the day, is not about genomics integration with chemistry — you also have to link to the clinical data,” Guo said.

InforSense has already begun building some demonstration versions of this system, Guo said, adding that “it will certainly be released quite soon.”

The company also plans to launch a new initiative in early 2005 that will open up its workflow environment to a broader range of third-party software vendors. “The important thing is that if the workflow is going to be really useful, it has to be completely open,” Guo said.

This is one area where InforSense may have an advantage over SciTegic. Although Accelrys has vowed to keep SciTegic’s solution open to other vendors [BioInform 09-20-04], some observers are skeptical that SciTegic will be able to remain absolutely vendor-neutral as a subsidiary of the life science software giant.

“I think Scitegic realizes [the importance of an open architecture],” Guo said, “but I don’t know how they can achieve that. But we, as an independent workflow company … have great freedom to actually do that, and we will push this very heavily.”

— BT

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