Geospiza Cuts Deal With Illumina, To Help Scientists Cope With Information Overload

6/24/08Follow @xconomy

Geospiza, a Seattle-based maker of software to support biological research, said today it is hitching its wagon to San Diego-based Illumina, a rising star in next-generation gene sequencing. Geospiza is joining Illumina Connect, a sort of referral service in which researchers who buy Illumina’s gene analysis machines are advised that Geospiza software can help them sift through the resulting piles of data. It’s not guaranteed cash flow, but it’s a source of promising sales leads for privately-held Geospiza.

It’s the first formal relationship between the two companies and the result of several months of effort, says Rob Arnold, Geospiza’s president. Geospiza began working on the partnership in December, after it learned through a survey that 9 out of 10 of its customers were interested in buying Illumina’s next-generation sequencing machine, called the Genome Analyzer. The device, which costs $400,000 to $500,000, is capable of bringing down the price of sequencing an entire human genome to about $60,000, down from several million bucks a few years ago, Arnold said.

“You can do an enormous amount of work on these machines, you can go deeper and wider than anything researchers have had before,” Arnold says. For example, researchers can look at 10 genes of interest in 1,500 patients with breast cancer, and see how their individual genes respond differently to different drugs.

That’s the tantalizing promise of personalized medicine, yet the $400,000 is still a hefty tab for academic researchers. After shelling out that much cash, many opt for software developed in-house (i.e., cheaply) to sort through and make sense of the data. Geospiza’s task is to convince them that by spending a bit more for its software—at $30,000 a year or $2,500 a month—they can keep better track of that precious experimental data.

Illumina isn’t devoting its salesforce to pitch the Geospiza system, called FinchLab, although it did highlight the value of the system in an instructional “webinar” with about 200 researchers last month, Arnold said.

“Unlike many applications, FinchLab is highly tailored to the specific needs of the Genome Analyzer, with tools for managing and analyzing next-generation genetic sequence data that can accelerate research and discovery,” said Omoshile Clement, senior product manager of Informatics at Illumina, in a Geospiza statement.

Geospiza doesn’t disclose its financial statements, but it’s clearly not a bad thing to get on board the Illumina train. That company’s business is booming, with first quarter sales climbing 69 percent in the first quarter, to $122 million, Illumina said in April.

The Illumina Genome Analyzer is competing with devices from Applied Biosystems, Roche, and Cambridge, MA-based Helicos Biosciences, Arnold said. Geospiza is confident that researchers will start turning to software that can help them cope with information overload from machines like Illumina’s. “Folks are getting overwhelmed with data,” Arnold said. “It’s like going through several thousand spreadsheets of data. Without more of a data management system to track, and present it, there’s no practical way to get through it.”

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