HAMBURG, Germany — The German integrated genomics company Lion Biosciences AG, of Heidelberg, has acquired an exclusive commercial license for the Sequence Retrieval System (SRS), a database navigation and retrieval tool very widely used in bioinformatics. The technology will be marketed and further developed by its newly founded subsidiary, Lion Bioscience Ltd., of Cambridge, U.K.

Since its founding in March 1997, Lion has focused on sequencing combined with bioinformatics and has developed several tools to provide in-depth analysis of genetic sequences. Within this time span, the company has established several strategic alliances in genomics and bioinformatics with leading life science companies. Recently, target discovery was added as a third business activity. (See BioWorld International, Sept. 9, 1998, p. 5.)

"Now we will strengthen the silicon part of [the] biology," Georg Casari, director of bioinformatics for Lion, told BioWorld International. "Lion believes that the future of life science discoveries lies in the integration of data from each stage of the discovery process. Therefore, we developed the concept of life science informatics — an intelligent system to mine, manage and integrate data from biological and chemical informatics, animal and patient databases, etc."

BioScout, Lion's proprietary bioinformatics platform, already combines a large number of bioinformatics tools. It screens all publicly available genome databases and stores between 2,000 and 3,000 new sequences per day. For a given sequence, BioScout provides the researcher with homology searches, predicts secondary and three-dimensional structures, and indicates specific sequence patterns and functional domains. It also can alert a user interested in specific sequences if sequence similarities or profiles of interest are detected.

"It is highly automated," Casari said, "and designed to act like a biologist."

Now SRS has been integrated into BioScout. So far, SRS has been a public-domain bioinformatics tool, developed over the past eight years by a team at the Cambridge, U.K.-based European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), an out-station of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), of Heidelberg. Thure Etzold, who led the team, will head the group at Lion Bioscience Ltd. while maintaining his academic position at the EBI.

SRS is used to search for and retrieve text-based information across various types of databases, no matter whether they contain sequence, structural, compound-specific or even bibliographic information. Due to its versatility and universality, it has been installed in more than 40 commercial and about 200 academic sites.

"With SRS, scientists can run queries across hundreds of data collections," Casari said. "That way, it brings together the world of biological, medical and chemical databases into a single interface and environment. The SRS integration will make BioScout an even more valuable everyday tool for biologists." SRS can be used as a stand-alone search system as well.

Lion acquired the commercial license for SRS from the EMBL. Under the terms of the agreement, SRS will remain freely available to the research community, stressed Fotis Kafatos, director-general of the EMBL.

SRS Another Step Toward Platform

"However, the time has come to develop this technology to a degree of sophistication that requires the level of investment which is possible in the private sector," Kafatos said. Lion will provide technical and customer support and accelerate further development.

Friedrich von Bohlen, CEO of Lion, said the SRS integration is another step toward the building of an integrated platform for accelerated target discovery and validation: "We want to become the worldwide leader in integrating genomics and life science informatics technology," von Bohlen said. "SRS is all the more important for Lion's further development, as nearly 90 percent of our potential customers already use this technology. So this provides an easy entry [for us] to offer our additional products and services."

In the end, the life science informatics concept will not only provide the scientist at the bench with useful information; it will enable corporate users to view their entire research and development processes on one screen, von Bohlen said. "We want to meet the needs for project management and evaluation as well as the scientific ones," he added. Already, Lion has developed the Laboratory Information Management Agent System, which interfaces laboratory devices with each other and assigns samples to dedicated projects and subtasks. *