A recent partnership with Illumina is taking the company to ‘another level.’
By Kevin Davies
March 29, 2011 | Michael Ball, CEO of GenoLogics, thinks that Illumina’s recent partnership with his company to sell GenoLogics’ LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) is further validation of the company’s stature as the leading LIMS provider for the next-generation sequencing (NGS) community.
Some 18 months ago, Illumina chose GenoLogics as its preferred LIMS provider. “We’ve worked hard since then to understand how we can better integrate our product with their instrumentation and analysis software,” Ball told Bio•IT World. “The biggest challenge most labs are having is managing the upfront workflow, the wet lab, as well as post-sequence step. What do you do with all the data? How do you index masses of samples and provide the necessary traceability?”
“Illumina decided that being able to sell our solution as part of an overall solution to the lab is part of a winning strategy,” says Ball. “This Illumina relationship will take us to another level. It’s great to have market leaders embracing you.”
The announcement is a boon to the Canadian company, which has seen NGS applications assume the majority of its business in recent years, after starting out in 2003 primarily servicing the proteomics market.
“There’re only a few [LIMS] players in the NGS space,” says Ball. Because of the variability and complexity of the wet lab component, with rapidly shifting protocols, there is a premium on “a system that gives you data and sample traceability but also the flexibility to change the protocol without waiting weeks for the process to be reprogrammed.”
Ball says the GenoLogics LIMS is “configurable by the lab” but it also offers traceability, so users know what has potentially been changed and can track where a given sample came from. Most life science LIMS are very process-oriented, says Ball, tailored for multi-step protocols and workflows that seldom change.
While GenoLogics isn’t targeting the major genome centers, Ball says it can be deployed in any organization just one level down, with say 20 NGS machines. The University of Washington, for example, is one sizeable customer. Indeed, “Anyone below that top tier is a potential customer of ours,” says Ball. “If you have a single NGS instrument, you weren’t generating much data [until recently]. But now you’ve got the HiSeq 2000 and you’re indexing and multiplexing, even one HiSeq is a target for us because the output is staggering.
“The market is changing so fast. Our advantage is that, because we’re working with vendors, we’re up on the changes in protocols and have them embedded in our system. The same time a hardware vendor announces [a new product] we’re ready to go.”
GenoLogics’ customers are also doing other forms of genomics and proteomics analysis, of course, and the LIMS has modules for those technologies. But generally, the most pain is in NGS, Ball says. GenoLogics supports many NGS platforms, not just Illumina, and Ball says he is in discussions with 3rd-generation companies including Pacific Biosciences and Ion Torrent.
Ball says his company has learned a lot in the past two years as the NGS field has exploded. “Two years ago, NGS was so new. Much of our activity was, ‘Tell us what you need and we’ll configure a basic system to meet your requirements.’ Now, we’re at a point where we’ve done enough implementations that we know best practices and we can pre-configure a system. If you’re an Illumina customer, it’s out of the box and you can be up and running in weeks. Then you can tweak it. We’re making it much more of a product. We can help labs understand best practices. Here’s what many of our customers are doing, so start here. We’re improving their ability to be up and running quickly.”
Ball says there is some respectable competition in the marketplace, not least from BioTeam’s Wiki-LIMS, which is primarily targeted at single- and 2- or 3-instrument labs. “As people migrate, they need a more robust sample-tracking capability, particularly as they move into diagnostics and clinical fields. You need a robust database underneath for that information. Wiki-LIMS is more of a consulting business to help people. We’re a software product company—we want to give you something ready to go from the start.”
The NGS is keeping GenoLogics fully occupied, but Ball expects a transition into clinical and diagnostics realms. “We see that transition and growth path. It’ll take a while to get there, but we can be very successful in that market too.” •
This article also appeared in the March-April 2011 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine. Subscriptions are free for qualifying individuals. Apply today.