Cognia expands presence in Scotland

Cognia Corp. is expanding its Scottish operations by hiring 50 new employees for a text mining team that will help identify information to include in databases for drug discovery researchers.

Lisa Espenschade
NEW YORK—Cognia Corp. is expanding its Scottish operations by hiring 50 new employees for a text mining team that will help identify information to include in data­bases for drug discovery researchers.
 
"We are basically building an operation there to leverage the technology that we've built with the University [of Edinburgh], to produce a variety of biological databases that will be used in drug discovery," says Bob Merold, Cognia's CEO.
 
Merold calls hiring 50 people by spring 2007 the "first leap forward" in Cognia's efforts to leverage its technologies and create 75 databases. Cognia's first database con­tains data about ubiquitin system molecules, and Merold intends to establish another 8 to 12 databases per year, initially for current areas of interest to drug researchers.
 
Cognia is collaborating with the University of Edinburgh through an agreement with ITI Life Sciences, an agency of the Scottish government that in 2005 committed £5.4 million over three years for development of text mining technology. "We are extremely pleased with the way the collab­oration between the teams at Edinburgh University and Cognia is operating and are delighted to report that all our challenging milestones have been met," said Alan Hale, ITI program manager, in a prepared state­ment. "This is a truly successful blending of academic and commercial excellence."
 
Cognia will have the exclusive right to commercialize resulting intellectu­al property for life sciences, though ITI could license it to other orga­nizations for applications in other fields. The new IP will join Cognia's existing portfolio, says Merold.
 
Cognia is receiving additional Scottish government sponsorship, for creating quality jobs within an economic zone, through another agency's grant. Although Cognia will use venture capital to fund the effort, it will receive reimburse­ment. The arrangement, says Merold, "makes sure that you have to actually go through with the program and produce the job."
 
Rodrigo Barnes, project man­ager for Cognia's Scottish text mining project, says the medium-term R&D aspects of the work are appealing to job candidates. "This lets you do the science and still feeds back into the science process, so it's quite an attractive thing," he says. "A lot of science these days is information-driven, especially in life sciences, and it's a good position to be part of that." As Cognia's content needs grow, its original team of 10 in Scotland should expand, by next spring, to a curation team of 50, with a sup­port and technology group of 25 to 30 people.
 
Barnes is hiring a mixed group of software developers, biologists, and natural language processing specialists. "That way we can bring forward the technical solutions and also have an eye for what the science is and where the text min­ing aspect comes together." The University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics has a strong history in language technology and natu­ral language processing, he says.
 
Cognia's work in Scotland is only the beginning of its foray into the United Kingdom: Merold hopes to establish an office in Cambridge, England, to service a cluster of biotech companies. "It would be logical to open an office there, probably in the early part of 2007. So we will."

Lisa Espenschade

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