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The release of FireFly
February 2009
by Amy Swinderman  |  Email the author
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INDIANAPOLIS—Seeking to create an easier way for mass spectrometry researchers to handle the volume of data generated in their experiments and share it with collaborators in different locations, analytical chemistry tool and technology developers—and Purdue University alumni—Prosolia Inc. and Indigo BioSystems Inc. have combined their imaging and data technologies to create FireFly, software designed to enable mass spec users to take data sets from proprietary data systems and convert them into file formats that are compatible with third-party software.

According to the companies, who announced their partnership Jan. 6, Firefly will enable researchers using Thermo Fisher Scientific's LTQ mass spectrometer and Prosolia's Omni Spray Ion Source platform to extract and build data sets from proprietary data systems using Indigo BioSystems' proprietary data conversion algorithms and convert them into file formats that are compatible with BioMAP, a third-party image visualization and processing software program available for free on the Internet. The companies did not disclose the financial details of the deal, but Indigo President and co-founder Randy Julian characterized the partnership as a "co-marketing type of agreement" in which the companies will co-develop FireFly, with Prosolia then selling the software to its mass spec customers.

Combining Indigo's open data format and globally accessible data repository services with Prosolia's imaging systems will allow researchers to exchange data between organizations "in a secure way, but also in a way that everyone can understand the data," Julian says.

"This is something that has gotten a lot worse now that we have gone to a fully distributed R&D model in pharma," he says. "Our goal has been to remove barriers to collecting and analyzing large volumes of data and make them accessible to those engaged in high-performance computing. The most powerful thing about this collaboration is that we are attempting to empower people to generate and deal with large volumes of data. Essentially, they have the fire hose, and we have the swimming pool. The problem with people using high-throughput and high-content spectroscopic methods is that they tend to take small sips. Our mission is to not let data volume be the reason you don't do a key experiment. Human disease deserves better."

Justin Wiseman, Prosolia's director of research and development, says FireFly is unique in that it will allow users to place Prosolia's Omni Spray Ion Source product line—which uses a technology known as Desorption Electrospray Ionization (DESI) to directly sample surfaces without sample preparation and under ambient temperature and pressure conditions—on a Thermo Fisher, Bruker or Waters instrument and not only collect data, but visualize it as well.

"This is a capability that is unavailable in the market at this point," Wiseman says. "If you do this with any other technique, you can only visualize the data with their instrument and software. To do that is very time-consuming. FireFly will convert the data into a common file format. This means the same experiment that would have taken weeks to months will only take hours."

Julian stresses that although the companies provide complementary services, the partnership is "not a synergistic thing." Principals at both companies cut their teeth on analytical chemistry services as students at Purdue University, surviving the infamous Chemistry 621 course that is widely regarded as a "boot camp" for training in chemical instrumentation.

Prosolia was established in 2003 to commercialize technology arising from the laboratory of Professor R. Graham Cooks of the Aston Laboratories of Mass Spectrometry at Purdue, while Indigo was founded in 2004 and incubated by the Ventures group of Eli Lilly & Co. until early 2006.

"It's a great tribute to the state of Indiana that we are able to assemble this data analysis dream team," Julian says. "If a company like Lilly wants to contract with someone to analyze samples, we now provide a mechanism in which they can get those results back. A company taking advantage of the talent and capability in the area it resides is something the industry really needs, and if that is what it decides to do, it is also our win." DDN
 
Code: E020906

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