ST. LOUIS—Drug discovery informatics provider Tripos Inc. announced plans last month to embrace web services as a key strategic component of its informatics products and future product development strategy. The idea behind the move to service-oriented informatics is ultimately to add more value to its discovery informatics products by making them more flexible and able to be used in conjunction with a host of other informatics programs deployed in the market. In a related development, Tripos also announced it was joining SciTegic's independent software vendor (ISV) program (see sidebar).
"The idea is that software is moving away from the workstation and more toward servers," says Bryan Koontz, senior vice president and general manager of discovery informatics at Tripos. In the process, pharmaceutical companies are looking to unlock the bits of underlying science housed in individual workstations and make them accessible not just to individual researchers but the company's research community at large. "But it is really hard to do that if we, Tripos, were still forcing users to consume say a 2-D to 3-D structure generating capability by firing up a workstation," he adds. "So if we can take that same functionality, put it on a server somewhere and wrap it up as a web service — which makes it easier for people to access — we can give them flexibility for building custom applications and provides them with more options for using Tripos software."
Koontz believes that drug discovery informatics is particularly well suited to a more server-centric, open architecture approach since the software used in discovery research is often finely tuned to perform very specific computational and modeling tasks. "In our portfolio alone, we have close to 60 different modules and our competitors have even more," he says. "So the nature of these is often very specialized calculators and algorithms to perform a specific task that is part of a larger workflow and that is perfect for a Web service."
In essence, the use of Web services and service-oriented informatics provides a standard method of communicating information, even using data generated by a competing company's software. Researchers have come to recognize the power of feeding data from one company's software through the algorithm of another.