LONDON - U.K. bioinformatics start-up Synomics Ltd. has raised £4 million in venture capital to develop and market software that will integrate and bring coherence to the huge amounts of data generated by new technologies such as genomics, combinatorial chemistry and high-throughput screening.

Such technologies promise to increase the productivity of discovery and development activities, but pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are finding it hard to maximize investments in the techniques because of shortcomings in the systems for managing the biological information they generate.

Synomics aims to provide a means for integrating these information resources and for managing the flow of data across the drug discovery and development chain.

The company, based in Cambridge, has backing of £1 million each from the Biotechnology Investment Fund, JAFCO Co. Ltd., TVM Techno Venture Management and 3i plc.

It was founded by Steve Gardner, formerly director of bioinformatics at the pharmaceutical company Astra; Paolo Zanella, who is director of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and will join Synomics as director of strategic and international operations; and Tom Flores, formerly manager of the EBI's industry program, who is the company's chief technical officer.

Synomics' strategy is to work with pharmaceutical companies and third party software providers to develop a framework that allows information stored in different formats and different database management systems to be integrated into a single data warehouse and data mining system. As yet no collaborations have been announced.

Genomics Framework Can Be Extended

Rowan Gardner, head of marketing, told BioWorld International the company will initially concentrate on integrating genomics information.

“It is a huge problem for the pharmaceutical industry to solve the issue of accessing and managing the huge wealth of genomics information coming from public and private research,“ Gardner said. “But the problem is not limited to genomics, and the idea is that we will bring to market a genomics framework which can then be extended to other disciplines - for example toxicology and chemical structure databases.

“It is very important,“ he added, “that in Steve Gardner we have got someone who is very familiar with the problem from a pharmaceutical industry perspective as well as academic expertise from EBI.“

The framework will be based on an open standard, the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (Corba), which can create bridges between databases, even if they are radically different in structure and nomenclature. The standard is already employed in other sectors, for example manufacturing and financial services, to allow non-compatible databases to interoperate.

At present the lack of interoperability between genomics databases means it is likely that a researcher working on a gene in one organism would not be able to find the same gene in the database for another organism. The EBI is spearheading a Europe-wide effort to make databases interoperate using Corba. Flores has been involved in this project as well as being responsible for the industry program under which pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies work in collaboration with EBI.

However, Rowan Gardner said there will be no transfer of intellectual property from EBI to Synomics. “We expect to have an ongoing relationship with EBI; however, there is no formal tie.“

The first product will be ready to ship next April to a number of beta test sites. “We are not talking about shrink-wrapped software, but tool kits which we will tailor to the needs of individual users,“ said Gardner.

Synomics (the Syn in the name stands for synergy) will also provide user training and other support services.

The £4 million start-up money is sufficient to fund the company for three to four years. *

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