May 15, 2018 (Vol. 38, No. 10)
Self-Serve Informatics Platform from Dotmatics Grinds through Data, Sustains Workflows
If a biologist wants to check the sequence alignment of DNA, she may have to request the services of a bioinformatician, who may keep her waiting hours, even days, for a complete analysis. To avoid such delays, the biologist might consider another option: analytics technology from Dotmatics. This company provides informatics solutions that let researchers generate analyses—querying and importing data, running multiple analyses and visualizations, getting a complete result—in timespans as short as a coffee break.
It shouldn’t take hours to generate data for analysis. “Time is money,” acknowledges Stephen Gallagher, Ph.D., CEO of Dotmatics. And sensitivity to time, he suggests, animates Dotmatics’ work: “We have algorithms that are two orders of magnitude faster than anyone else’s. We can perform sequence alignments at a rate of 1 trillion bases per second. This kind of performance is just unheard of.
“Our aim is real-time analysis—coffee-break analytics.” Eliminating analytical delays that have challenged biologists in the past accelerates therapeutic development and thus benefits drug developers and patients alike.
Dotmatics is aggressively committed to making complex analytics tools easy for bench scientists to use without becoming informaticians themselves. As a result, scientists needn’t send data out to informatics specialists and wait for the results.
That commitment to ease of use extends to graphics, too. “Graphics scale independently of the size of the data,” Dr. Gallagher points out. “Users can load and analyze the entire human genome on a laptop, and the graphics will be smooth and seamless—even smoother than in the gaming industry.”
In 2001, Dr. Gallagher and Alastair Hill, Dotmatics’ director and chief technical officer, were working together at Merck in the United Kingdom to improve access to data. “Back then, data access was a big problem,” Dr. Gallagher recalls. “There were few actual tools to make searches and collaboration easy across projects. By 2005, we thought, ‘If it works here, it can work elsewhere.’”
Rather than participate in a Merck spin-off business, Dr. Gallagher and Mr. Hill left the company, acquired the rights to the technology they had been developing, and founded Dotmatics. “Our mission was, and remains, the provision of scientifically aware tools to bench chemists and biologists to let them capture, query, and analyze scientific data for drug development,” affirms Dr. Gallagher.
In Dotmatics’ earliest days, Dr. Gallagher and Mr. Hill worked in a spare bedroom writing code. Their challenge was to make the code specific enough for a given company, but flexible enough that any company could use it.
The next challenge was finding a buyer. “Our aim was to develop products for small biotechs that didn’t have the resources of big pharma,” Dr. Gallagher says. Six months along, the Belgian biotech UCB became Dotmatics’ first customer. It was soon followed by others such as the University of Dundee and BioFocus. (All of the institutions named here are still Dotmatics’ customers today.)
Dotmatic wasn’t overly focused on generating a fast return on its investment. “Our main goal was to help scientists by making good products,” notes Dr. Gallagher. The first two products were Browser and Gateway, which UCB initially licensed for hundreds of users. “That was quite exceptional,” Dr. Gallagher says. Then, Dotmatics developed an electronic notebook. Today it has a suite of 14 highly integrated tools.
During those early days, “potential clients would say we had great products but wonder whether we’d be around in five years,” Dr. Gallagher admits. “Eventually, that stopped, and companies began to seek us out. People believed in us, and sales grew from there.” Today, the company has offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea.
Bio- and Cheminformatics Support
“It’s rare to have a company fully support both chemists and biologists,” Dr. Gallagher says. He considers that product breadth is one of Dotmatics’ distinguishing features. “Some companies have a few competing products, but we provide a full platform of full-fledged products and customer support.” Many of those products were developed with input from customers to ensure they meet scientists’ real needs.
“Early on, we were chemistry-led,” Dr. Gallagher recalls. “Our focus was to take complicated tools for cheminformatics and make them easy to use and readily available to bench chemists. A few years ago, we saw the industry was changing to incorporate biologics molecular medicine.” Biologists didn’t have access to the type of robust, easy-to-use tools Dotmatics had developed for chemists, so the company developed them.
Vortex for Bioinformatics is a prime example. Released in March, it offers analytical and visualization capabilities for sequence data and other types of data, as well as very large datasets such as DNA, RNA, and protein or peptide sequences. Vortex lets researchers search, edit, and annotate sequences, and search and browse for antibody complementarity-determining region (CDR) number schemes and CDR alignment. It also integrates with Vortex’ cheminformatics features.
Other tools in Dotmatics’ platform enable sample and asset tracking, file importation into a unified database, graphical workflows, chemical registration and reagent management, chemical sourcing, communications, browsing of corporate scientific databases, biologics entity registration, protein production process management, and importation into Microsoft Office.
Standalone and SaaS Deployments
The software is available for local or cloud deployment. The software as a service (SaaS) implementation, which has been available since 2010, uses the Amazon cloud. The SaaS model enables easy scalability and integration with other modules within the Dotmatics informatics platform. As clients grow and their needs shift, their information solution can change with them, quickly and easily.
Rather than install additional software, Dotmatics may respond by adjusting the software license and, essentially, flipping a switch to add new capabilities or seats as needed. And because the application and the data are in the cloud, they can be accessed easily by scientists who may be located anywhere in the world. As a result, bench scientists have access to the same analytics and have the assurance they are working off the same (and most recent) data.
Dotmatics’ tools are being used in a variety of companies. “There is no typical application,” notes Dr. Gallagher. “Some companies buy one tool. Some install an entire suite. They can shape their informatics platform by picking and choosing.” Bristol-Myers Squibb, he says, is replacing its screening platform with Dotmatics’ systems, and the German chemical company Clariant is replacing its current system with Dotmatics’ electronic notebooks as part of its digital strategy.
Dotmatics’ technology will be “quite transformative” for the company’s customers, Dr. Gallagher predicts. He expects that it will enable scientists to more efficiently track and leverage the huge quantities of data being generated today.
A Small and Fast-Growing Company
With strengths in both chemistry and biology, Dotmatics is a small, rapidly growing company. Approximately 20 people have joined its staff in the past month alone, including Gordon McCall, the company’s first chief financial officer. McCall, a certified accountant, previously served as associate director of a specialty financial consultancy in Glasgow.
While the company has grown organically thus far, it recently received a substantial investment from Scottish Equity Partners, a venture capital company focused on high-growth companies. This influx of capital will enable continued aggressive expansion in chemistry and biologics, supporting product innovation and customer support. As Dr. Gallagher says, “There’s lots of work to do in the biologics space. We’re developing tools in QSAR, predictive analysis, CDR, CRISPR, and hot-spot identification, amongst many other things. Biologics really is up there with chemistry as a major driver for the industry now.”
Dr. Gallagher maintains that Scottish Equity Partners’ investment “sends a message” about Dotmatics’ durability. “We’re here to stay,” he contends. “We’re doing the right things, and we want to be a major player in this industry.”