LEXINGTON, Mass. – The late March announcement that Cambridge, U.K.-based Cytomix would acquire Ardais Corp.'s biorepository of more than 130,000 biospecimens was much more than a simple transaction for Ardais. It marked the completion of a year-long strategic remaking of Ardais that moved the company from a provider of biospecimens for the research community, to a consultant whose services help research centers manager their internal tissue collection and biospecimen management systems.
Launched in 1999, Ardais spent its first five years in business collecting tissue samples which it provided to the translational medicine market for use in a variety of studies. Over that time, it collected more than 250,000 tissue samples from more than 18,000 patients and in the process developed a comprehensive system and procedures that included everything from how to properly get permission from patients and standardized collection methods to the development of consistent data tracking and the creation of an annotation ontology for tissue samples.
"From day one, we dedicated a lot of money to develop a standard for collection," says Martin Ferguson, senior vice president of bioinformatics with Ardais. "When we began, we saw there would be increased need for tissue samples. But there wasn't a single source for large tissue sets that were comparable based on biology and annotation."
Ardais was founded on the idea of providing these large tissue sets, but found the market was limited. "We were generating millions of dollars of revenue, but we never reached what could be considered a venture (capital) return," Ferguson says. "Then a couple of other companies got the idea and as it turned out we were all competing for about 20 percent of the market."
The other 80 percent of the biospecimen market was not interested in using Ardais' tissue samples, as the research institutions were instead focused on generating and managing their own, internal biobanks. "Of those, there were a number that showed interest in using the system we had developed for collecting samples from multiple sites for their program," says Ferguson.