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Triple Play


Tripos’ collaboration with Wyeth enhances research and workflow efficiency.

By Alissa Poh

Nov. 12, 2008 | If there’s one word Big Pharma loves, it’s “streamlining.” So Tripos International’s latest software solution—developed as a joint venture with Wyeth and consulting firm Accenture—could be on other companies’ shopping lists pretty soon.

“It’s a system by which companies with a lot of research data can create an integrated, real-time platform for accessing, analyzing, and sharing all that information,” says Patrick Flanagan, Tripos’ general manager. “Prior to this, folks at Wyeth would spend a significant portion of their time collecting and aggregating data on very discrete topics. Now they claim they’re doing analyses they never would’ve done previously, as a result of time-saving and access to information they didn’t have before.”

As far as Tripos is concerned, this collaboration is the “evolution,” as Flanagan puts it, of its Benchware Discovery 360 product, first developed several years ago when Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) needed to reduce operational costs by streamlining its drug discovery processes. Discovery 360 has been described as “the first commercially available integrated discovery environment” that resides atop a company’s data repositories, giving scientists and project managers alike a single point of entry by which to consolidate structural, biological, and chemical data.

Wyeth picked Tripos out of several competing software providers, Flanagan says, to leverage and extend the capabilities of Discovery 360 for its Next-Generation Discovery IT initiative.

“It was a fairly deliberate process,” says Steve Howes, senior director of bioinformatics at Wyeth, of the selection. “We wanted people familiar with the [software] marketplace, but more importantly, who were founded on science and actually had experience working with scientists. So after surveying the vendor landscape and reviewing several options, we chose Tripos because they met both criteria.”

Potent Combination
“There are approximately 1,000 discovery scientists at Wyeth, including both biologists and chemists, who can get value from this capability,” Flanagan adds. “Wyeth wanted them to exist comfortably in this large environment, and to have a common set of tools for conducting experiments in silico.” Tripos already had the foundation of such workflow-improving tools at hand—namely Discovery 360—and was charged with collaborating to build an “enterprise-level” solution that would tie together Wyeth’s different, disparately-located databases. Accenture developed a near real-time data warehouse accessed by Discovery 360.

The resulting NextGen initiative utilized the technology first used with BMS (called SmartIdea), with some significant additions to meet the needs of the Wyeth scientists in its final design, deployed earlier this year. All in all, a “pretty potent combination,” Flanagan says.

“It comes down to this, really—biologists [at Wyeth] now have access to chemists and vice versa, team leaders have full visibility of their team’s experiments, and management folks can view and impact the full R&D portfolio,” he elaborates.

Not that finalizing this venture has been without its challenges, of course—in particular what Flanagan calls the “data harmonizing piece.” Wyeth, like most large pharmaceutical organizations, had a variety of different databases, software, coding systems, and processes; producing a common information-processing format [within Wyeth] for Discovery 360 thus required “a large team effort,” says Howes, adding that it was a great partnership with talented people on all sides.

 Currently, 550 of Wyeth’s discovery scientists have been trained to use the new system, in four U.S. sites, and Wyeth’s goal is for it to be deployed to all 1,000 by year’s end. “Now that it’s in place, we’re very pleased at the feedback we’re getting from our scientists, and look forward to expanding it through discovery, making it easier to do science,” Howes says.

Since announcing the solution in August, Tripos has been involved in “conversations of varying degrees of sophistication,” Flanagan says, to offer this service to several other potential clients.  “A couple of the places we’re talking to are organizations with [homegrown] systems, but they’ve recognized the burden of owning and maintaining it in today’s macroeconomic environment, and they’re leaning toward having a vendor like us take matters in hand.”

Tripos also hopes to offer smaller biotechs the ability to plug into Discovery 360-like systems in the near future. “We want to make it easier for organizations lacking the muscle and budget of a large pharmaceutical firm to also access this type of resource,” Flanagan says.

As Tripos’ acquisition of Pharsight Corporation, a company providing PK/PD modeling and simulation tools, is finalized, Flanagan sees the latter’s expertise in optimizing preclinical and clinical drug development as an added bonus that could potentially be integrated into future versions of Discovery 360.

“Our view [at Tripos] is that chemical informatics and modeling software companies can have the most value over time along the entire R&D spectrum,” he says. “Our focus is to acquire others complementary to us, versus duplicative, in terms of what they offer to the public. Pharsight is our first acquisition along this template, and it should be a great extension into an area where we don’t [currently] have a presence.” 

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This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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