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Converting Data To Intelligence

Agilent deepens ties with software provider to integrate information from various instruments

by Marc S. Reisch
November 22, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 47

Credit: Agilent Technologies
GeneSpring software will show genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic data on the same screen to aid interpretation.
Credit: Agilent Technologies
GeneSpring software will show genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic data on the same screen to aid interpretation.

Scientific instruments today spit out reams of data. The problem for life scientists in particular is how to make sense of all the data they generate from the large number of specialized tools in their labs.

Instrument maker Agilent Technologies and software designer Strand Scientific Intelligence are working on software intended to bring together genomic, metabolomic, and proteomic data on one computer screen. The hope is that the latest iteration of Agilent’s GeneSpring software will “fuel future breakthroughs in biomedical research,” according to Gustavo Salem, vice president of Agilent’s biological systems division.

Agilent and Strand claim that their latest informatics effort, started in October, is the instrumentation industry’s most comprehensive one yet for collating information from a variety of sources. Unlike laboratory information management software designed to store large volumes of data and track samples (C&EN, May 24, page 12) and electronic notebooks allowing users to share data, Salem says the partners are developing a new type of software platform.

GeneSpring will take a biology systems approach that will correlate “omics” results from a large number of Agilent instruments, including gene microarrays, polymerase chain reaction profilers, liquid chromatography and gas chromatography systems, and mass spectrometers.

The effort will enable pharmaceutical firms, hospitals, and clinicians to better understand and analyze disease pathways, Salem says. By making sense of genetics data, he predicts, the software will enable the advances in translational and personalized medicine that have been anticipated since the human genome was sequenced more than a decade ago. The software should help clinicians develop better ways to detect and treat diseases. And it could have an impact on research in fields such as industrial toxicology, where it could substitute for animal studies.

On screen, GeneSpring will ­“leverage knowledge from one analytical tool to another,” explains François Mandeville, executive vice president of Strand. The software will be able to present data in a kind of dashboard approach by juxtaposing information from a variety of instruments. Predictive modeling will allow researchers to understand, for instance, a molecule’s effects on biological systems. Other routines built into the software will help to reveal connections between different data sets.

In addition, Strand and Agilent plan to offer customers access to Strand’s Avadis software, which provides storage and analysis of biological data. Avadis’ microscopy module, for instance, will store microscope images and correlate them with the GeneSpring software.

Financial analysts point to the growth areas that software such as GeneSpring addresses. In a recent report on Agilent, C. Anthony Butler, an analyst with investment banking firm Barclays Capital, notes that “hot areas like cellular analysis, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging and microscopy, and genomics are attracting a disproportionate share of funding.”

Agilent and Strand have worked together since 2007. Their partnership started even earlier, in 2003, if Strand’s work with microarray developer Stratagene, which Agilent acquired in 2007, is taken into account.

The software alliance is intended to advance Agilent’s goal of making itself a leader in life sciences instrumentation. The company took a big step in that direction with the acquisition of instrument maker Varian earlier this year (C&EN, Aug. 23, page 19). However, on its own Agilent still doesn’t have the expertise in software design to give its instruments an edge in life sciences research.

Strand and Agilent started their partnership by developing two software programs: the first versions of GeneSpring, for gene expression studies, and Mass Profiler Professional, for metabolomics and proteomics analysis. Last year, the two incorporated Mass Profiler Professional into GeneSpring. Their latest work will extend the -omics capabilities of the combined program.

Strand, launched in 2000 by four computer scientists from the Indian Institute of Science, has a customer list that includes Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Eli Lilly & Co. Strand “provides insights into their data,” Mandeville says. For Pfizer, the firm designed an -omics data warehouse, for instance. As Mandeville sees it, with GeneSpring, Agilent has taken a more “holistic” approach to informatics than other instrument makers.

Salem thinks of the alliance as helping provide what researchers need to make the next wave of therapeutic breakthroughs. What Agilent and Strand are engaged in, he says, is “encouraging scientists to think about the data.”



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