By Malorye A. Branca
June 17, 2004 | Genomics tools are maturing rapidly, and scientists are using new approaches to get the best use from them. As a result, many vendors are rethinking their life sciences strategy. To get a better look inside Agilent’s life sciences playbook, Bio-IT World senior informatics editor Malorye A. Branca spoke to Fran DiNuzzo, vice president and general manager of the company’s newly formed Integrated Biology Solutions group.
MB: What is the rationale for reorganizing and forming the Integrated Biology Solutions group?
DiNuzzo: Agilent has been involved in life sciences for quite some time, and we’ve been continually investing in this marketplace. Our customers working with nucleic acids and those studying proteomics used to be in different research centers, but recently we noticed that the differentiation between them is fading, and they are moving together toward systems biology.
We wanted to map what was going on in our customer base, so we could do a better job serving them. The answer was to bring the gene-expression, proteomics, and reagents businesses together in this new unit.
MB: How should that help you competitively?
DiNuzzo: Our competitors haven’t changed, but we’re focused on the marketplace in a different way. Now we can link together various products, from initial sample preparation through data analysis, which should make it easier for the customer to get good results and bring them more value.
For example, we were talking to a researcher in France about a bioanalytic product for nucleic acid isolation. He pointed out it would be great if, instead of getting just DNA-free RNA, he could also get the genomic DNA. That way, he could run CGH (comparative genome hybridization) analysis at the same time he was doing gene-expression analysis. In fact, you might also want to do protein analysis on the same sample.
MB: What role does informatics play in your new plan?
DiNuzzo: Informatics will be a key element for success in this type of research. But nobody has the magic pixie dust or a secret formula to make analyzing all of this data a snap. Part of the problem is that it is nascent information, so we are learning more about it. But we are in a better position to tackle this problem by using a wider range of tools. We have a series of products, some of which are licensed from top providers, such as Rosetta’s Resolver and Luminator. We also offer our Synapsia Informatics Workbench.
MB: Are there clear next steps for Agilent Life Sciences?
DiNuzzo: It’s premature to talk about new areas. But we now look at our strategic plan as a collective, and we are mapping out target markets and matching our skills and capabilities to these. Our goal is to expand our business aggressively, and if that means adding platforms, we will do it. For example, we have a collaboration with Dharmacon, using our arrays and their siRNA to validate the effects of siRNA on expressed genes. The area of gene silencing opens up many new kinds of experiments for people to do.
It’s important to remember that many companies are much less willing to take as many risks these days. Pharma is looking for something that they know is going to work. It’s up to us to combine the right innovation and commercialization steps.