Fast track for Compendia

Company secures $2.4 million Phase I and II SBIR grant

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ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Compendia Bioscience Inc. announced last month it received a $2.4 million SBIR Fast Track Award from the NCI to support the continued development and commercialization of the company's Oncomine product. Oncomine is a system that combines more than 20,000 cancer transcriptome profiles and includes both data analysis and data mining features.
In conjunction with the grant, Compendia also announced that Dan Rhodes, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, who created Oncomine and is co-founder of the company, will now become its CEO and act as the principal investigator for the sponsored work.
"We started serving Oncomine to academic researchers a number of years ago as it was being developed," explains Rhodes. "Starting a few years ago, we began receiving inquiries from major pharmaceutical companies who wanted to license it for their use. That's when we began talking to the university about doing a tech transfer to start a new company and create a commercial product."
Officially formed last year, Compendia had a bit of a jump start to the business, as the same big pharma companies that had shown interest in Oncomine became the company's first customers.
The initial funding of $600,000 for the company was provided through private investors and a matching loan from the State of Michigan. While that may not sound like much, it was more than enough for a company operating on Compendia's business model, says John Freshley, chief business officer.
"I think there are a lot of companies, especially ones that have a service focus, that can be successful without a lot of venture capital," Freshley notes. "We did not have the costs of the Gene Logics and Celeras of the world and we had customers from the first day."
The money from the SBIR grant will be used in three different areas: developing a data pipeline, further development of a robust data warehouse for the transcriptome data; and building a front-end Web application which will allow customers to access the data and tools online.
While creating a data pipeline to continually add to Oncomine and improving the data warehouse are important, Rhodes says for now "it is all about the front end of the Web application. The tools that we built around searching and finding the data work well with 50 or 100 data sets, but it is not going to work when we have hundreds of data sets."
To this end, the company will look to bring on board at least a couple of Web developers to work on this and add incremental features as well. If all goes according to plan, the new Web interface should be fully operation by mid- to late-2008.
Currently, the company offers two products. Oncomine Professional is aimed at pharma and biotech customers and has an array of search and data integration tools, and is offered under either an annual subscription per site or the recently added per user subscription. Oncomine Research is based on the original Oncomine developed while Rhodes was still entrenched in academia and is offered free to academic researchers for non-commercial research.
The biggest reason to keep the product free for academic researchers is simple. "We want to provide it to these researchers since they are our source for additional data that we can add to Oncomine as they develop it," Rhodes says.
The strength of the product is based on the data sets, but is also enhanced by a stringent in-house curation effort.
The most common application of Oncomine is as a target validation tool, though the company also notes that the breadth of Oncomine is often used for target discovery. In the coming years, Rhodes sees strong potential for Oncomine to be used for translational medicine research using the company's Concepts Map which maps gene signatures and can indicate populations that may have sensitivity to particular drugs and could predict efficacy.
"It's not here yet, but it's right around the corner, and this grant and the work we can do now will make sure we are ready for that demand when it comes," Rhodes says.

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