Almaden Genomics Launches Spinoff From IBM Research
GenomeWeb – October 2022
CHICAGO – Almaden Genomics, a company with roots in an IBM Research laboratory in Silicon Valley, will publicly launch Tuesday with the introduction of g.nome™, a cloud-based software platform meant to improve genomic research and discovery by simplifying the process of building and managing bioinformatics workflows.
Almaden is being unveiled by Catalyze Dallas, a firm that purchases technology assets from Fortune 100 companies to accelerate commercialization. Catalyze Dallas, which is funded by wealthy individuals looking for new investments, bought the intellectual property that became Almaden from IBM last month. Terms were not disclosed.
Because these wealthy individuals actually fund the investment firm's operations as well as individual portfolio companies directly, Catalyze Dallas was able to put "millions of dollars into [Almaden Genomics] right when the transaction was completed," according to Tricia D'Cruz, cofounder and managing director of Catalyze. "We expect to continue to fuel the company this way" in future growth rounds, she said.
g.nome is a "low-code" or "no-code" platform that accelerates and streamlines genomic work flows which is aimed at scientists and clinicians who lack bioinformatics expertise. No-code development is a relatively new phenomenon in the world of web development that allows people without specific programming knowledge to build software via graphical user interfaces.
The Almaden name represents the fact that the technology was developed at IBM Research's Almaden Lab in San Jose, California. The new company has hired most of the bioinformaticians and software engineers who created and validated g.nome at IBM.
CSO Mark Kunitomi said that Almaden wants to position g.nome in the market as offering a superior user experience to other bioinformatics tools when it comes to removing workflow bottlenecks.
"You can take all of the tools that you use and drag and drop them on to a canvas in a way that's very simple," Kunitomi said. "We believe [this] democratizes this experience and allows for developers of less experience, as well as biologists and software engineers, to interface with each other because this has become a multidisciplinary set of problems that needs to be solved using bioinformatics in conjunction with other solutions."
In this sense, Almaden joins numerous vendors that routinely claim that they want to "democratize" data, making information accessible to people who do not have an informatics background.
"Our approach is by producing a platform that's so easy and intuitive to use, it requires a lot less [hands-on bioinformatics work] in order to overcome the difficulties of process change that most organizations have," Kunitomi said.
Kunitomi, who worked for IBM before coming over to Almaden, said that g.nome grew out of an internal need at IBM Research to solve its own bioinformatics problems. "Once it became apparent that our problems were actually quite generalizable to most of the biotech market … we realized that these solutions that we created could really help people who are doing the type of work that we were doing," he said.
What became g.nome had been under development at IBM for a while, making it an attractive investment to Catalyze. "Numerous years and tens of millions of dollars of investment happened on the IBM dime," D'Cruz said. "Several different pilot programs and some real interesting customer traction happened under the purview of IBM."
D'Cruz, who also serves as executive chairperson of Almaden, said that g.nome is "prime time, ready to go, [though] there are always more features that can be added."
Kunitomi said that the engineering team releases small updates with mostly technical fixes and updates based on new biomedical knowledge every two weeks, while major releases are scheduled quarterly. He said that this pattern may change over time, but it has been in place for more than a year now.
Almaden is the third company Catalyze Dallas has launched, and the first in life sciences. The first two, Alpine Advanced Materials and Metro Aerospace, came from technology created at Lockheed Martin and serve the aerospace and defense industries. D'Cruz said that the investment firm has worked with about a dozen Fortune 100 clients.
Catalyze looks for companies ready to go to market within 60 days of closing a transaction.
D'Cruz said that Almaden "really floated to the top" of Catalyze's wish list because of its strong market potential as a vendor of software-as-a-service technology in life sciences. "We feel like this should easily be able to be $100 million revenue company within [five years]," she said.
"It's capable of being quite highly profitable because of the SaaS model that it's under and because of the low amount of [human programming] that's required. We don't have to build a large consulting arm," said D'Cruz, a self-described serial entrepreneur.
Even before the purchase from IBM closed, the Almaden team has been expanding the number of pilots and trials of the g.nome platform.
Personalized health software company SelfDecode served as the first beta tester for g.nome.
"We have been able to acquire customers faster and scale our business more quickly by providing results to our customers in a fraction of the time it used to take," SelfDecode CSO and Chief Medical Officer Puya Yazdi said in a statement. "My team really likes the easy graphical interface and toolkits and we now produce reliable production pipelines in a matter of days, not months."
D'Cruz said that g.nome's strength is that more than reducing the amount of human resources required, it shortens R&D timelines.
Initially, Almaden Genomics is targeting the academic market as well as small to midsize biotechnology firms. "We're going after these targets because we feel that they have the most need for rapid iteration and flexibility in their ability to build bioinformatics pipelines, as well as a staff that requires a simpler product to use," Kunitomi said.
The company has about 50 employees right now, but D'Cruz said the firm has been on a "very heavy-duty recruiting spree" and expects rapid short-term growth, particularly in sales. Within IBM Research, the assets that became Almaden Genomics did not have much of a sales or marketing operation behind them.
In the few months since Catalyze started talking to IBM about spinning off Almaden Genomics, the Almaden team was able to complete HIPAA privacy attestations for the g.nome platform and convert the technology to run on the Amazon Web Services cloud. Development at IBM Research took place in the IBM Cloud environment, which g.nome continues to support.
Kunitomi said that Almaden is participating in several open-source software communities. He said that the firm incorporates a long list of open-source tools in g.nome, though the only one he named was Docker, a platform for building, sharing, and running distributed applications inside software containers. "We aim to create a repertoire of Docker images that can be used as a standard for other organizations," he said.
Originally published on genomeweb.com