Hamilton software catches Sun's eye

A software company with its development centre in Hamilton hopes to get a helping hand from Sun Microsystems to take its products to biotech and life sciences companies around the world.

A software company with its development centre in Hamilton hopes to get a helping hand from Sun Microsystems to take its products to biotech and life sciences companies around the world.

Howard Asher (pictured), Sun’s director of global life sciences (medical and drug research and product development), was impressed by Reel Two, a company whose vertical applications classify unstructured data, during a visit to New Zealand this month.

Asher says having to deal with unstructured data, such as that gathered by doctors treating patients in clinical trials, is one of the major “pain points” for the biotech and life sciences industries.

“Unstructured, written textual information permeates everything they do. Doctors and scientists fill out written textual information that’s unbelievably unstructured. Reel Two deals with it.”

Asher says he was “thrilled” to meet representatives of the company.

“The life sciences industry is off the Richter scale in terms of its appetite for these products.”

Reel Two products enable researchers to identify associations between isolated areas of research in drug discovery, development and clinical trials. It has three biotech products — a bioinformatics data analysis engine which can handle numeric and non-text data, a life science patent knowledge discovery system and a gene ontology knowledge discovery system.

To tackle the US market the company has set up headquarters in San Francisco, but its technical development centre is in Hamilton and employs six PhDs mainly from the University of Waikato. CTO John Cleary and chief architect Len Trigg have both worked for Waikato University’s computer science department. Trigg says many of the staff had formed contacts in the US because they had been working for a New York-based artificial intelligence company before the .com bust.

Sun has 130 software and systems integrator partners around the world and Asher would like to add Reel Two to the list.

“We’re mapping the solutions of our partners directly to the needs of our customers. We’d like to have Reel Two partner with us. We’d like to help them go to market and reach out to the 28,000 biotech and life sciences companies around the world.”

Asher says Sun began targeting the biotech and life sciences companies about six years ago.

The “rumour” was that the scientific community was going to map the human genome and Sun CEO Scott McNealy saw that this would create a lot of data, he says. When the human genome project was completed in 2000 it created an explosion in information.

“At a cellular level we can see how drugs will inter-relate and we’re doing that with half terabyte data sets.”

Also driving the need for data handling solutions is the requirement by regulators, such as the FDA in the US, that drug and biotech companies document everything they do.

Asher says to develop a systemic drug takes 15 years and costs $100 million from discovery to market approval. Through the application of IT, he envisages that these can be reduced to seven years and $70 million over the next 10 years.

“By using computational predictive modelling we could eliminate animal studies and phase one and two studies, and go straight to clinical studies.”

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