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Insightful wins federal awards
SEATTLE–Insightful Corp. announced in mid-May that it received two awards for bioinformatics work under the U.S. government's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. A Phase II contract with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and a Phase I grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are worth a total of approximately $850,000. Both projects involve Insightful's InFact software, which performs natural language-based analysis and search functions on large quantities of text.
Giovanni Marchisio, Insightful's director of research and development for text analysis, says that, if compared with other analysis tools, InFact's "search technology is radically different. It's ex-tremely intelligent" because it understands grammar and can discern and report relationships between search terms, making connections that could eventually lead, for example, from high-throughput screening analysis to biomarkers. Search engines like Google can't understand interactions or genes, so they "don't make the cut," he says.
The government awards are synergistic with "cutting-edge research" Insightful is conducting with two pharmaceutical companies. "They all share the same text database," Marchisio says, listing public domain information including Medline's PubMed texts, plus scientific and medical journal abstracts and articles. "The contracts are a way of helping us offer functionality which is of specific interest to pharmaceutical companies," he says. InFact clients can mine for further correlations by integrating internal reports and proprietary information into the mass of public texts. "Drug discovery wants to converge information across multiple sources," he says, but massive amounts of studies on genomics, proteomics, and related topics make it impossible for people to read and evaluate everything.
The USAF project's focus, Marchisio says, is "to create a system for toxicogenomic fingerprinting" by establishing a link between the results of microarray and mass spectrometry analyses, then comparing it with information in literature to create a list of biomarkers that could indicate conditions. "The process is the same that is used by the drug discovery industry," notes Marchisio. The contract is worth $750,000.
Nicholas DelRaso, research microbiologist in the Air Force Research Laboratory's Applied Biotechnology branch, says that the USAF's goal is finding a protein biomarker to use in hand-held devices for detecting soldiers' exposure to toxins before they show symptoms.