Salvatore Salamone, Senior IT Editor
August 18, 2004 | SurroMed applies a variety of instrument and informatics technologies to biomarker discovery in clinical research studies to better understand drug mechanisms of action, discover root causes of disease, and discern the molecular basis of personalized medicine. The company's core goal is to discover and validate new biomarkers for a broad spectrum of diseases.
| "We wanted our service to let customers interact with the data and with us."
- KEITH JOHO, SURROMED
To accomplish this, SurroMed collaborates with a variety of drug research and clinical development organizations, such as Biogen Idec, PPD, and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation to share, analyze, and discuss biomarker test results on blood and other biological samples. SurroMed's clients, in turn, use this information in their own drug discovery research and clinical trials.
"Some use it to stratify a patient population, for example segmenting responders versus nonresponders," explains Keith Joho, vice president of informatics and bioanalytical operations at SurroMed. Others use the information to identify a disease's state or to investigate response to doses of a medication.
Historically, SurroMed would send customers a Microsoft Word report with figures from proteomic and metabolic analysis of samples, for instance, along with an Excel spreadsheet of test results. While this method was sufficient for distributing analyses of biomarker data, it tended to bog down collaboration. SurroMed wanted a system that created a tighter research relationship and truly quickened the pace of development.
The company's solution — a Web-based service called SurroStat — won the Best Practices Grand Prize for Knowledge Management and Collaboration because of its innovative integration of interactive data-mining tools from software vendors Insightful and Spotfire.
Using SurroStat, researchers can manipulate and interact with the test results. For instance, a customer can selectively examine results for specific proteins, cells, or metabolites. Researchers can annotate or comment on the results. And the secure, Web-based platform enables geographically dispersed researchers to easily share the information.
The core technology of SurroStat is Insightful's S-PLUS Server and Spotfire's DecisionSite software. The S-PLUS Server software is used to perform statistical analysis of the data. Additional tools within the package — S-PLUS Graphlets and S-PLUS XML — capture analyzed data and present them in interactive tabular- and graphic-report formats.
Spotfire's DecisionSite provides interactive visualization and filtering of data. Repeatable operations can be captured and managed through DecisionSite Analysis Builder, a tool that lets researchers build and save routines for analyzing and viewing data.
SurroMed uses another Spotfire application, DecisionSite Posters, to share analysis done on test result data. "We wanted our service to let customers interact with the data and with us," Joho says. "The interactive nature of Spotfire Posters lets a user drill down into their data."
After an initial sample analysis, SurroMed sends e-mail to the researcher with a link to the Posters page for that set of results.
Joho notes that he and his team worked with Spotfire for more than six months to develop the SurroStat system. Likewise, Insightful worked closely with SurroMed, customizing its offering so that particular modules could be pulled out. Insightful had to integrate S-PLUS Server with Spotfire's software. "Before this, we had developed some plug-ins and some interactive applications," says Michael O'Connell, Insightful's director of biopharm solutions. "But now we have a tighter collaboration."
From the customer's perspective, the data analysis, visualization, and manipulation features are seamless. A SurroStat user can select test results using DecisionSite and send those data to S-PLUS Server for statistical analysis and reporting. These results can then be returned to DecisionSite, where additional interactive analysis may be performed.
"What we wanted to do with this architecture was make it very easy for our customers to explore their results," Joho says.
Photo of Joho by Seth Affoumado