Why would anyone sacrifice a scientific career with many years of academic experience and instead start from scratch by founding a bioinformatics services company? Financial ruin, existential fear and a high risk of failure are only some of the risks one has to accept going down that road (not to say that a scientific career comes without its own set of risks). Despite facing all of these challenges, we were still attracted by the idea of doing one thing: making bioinformatics, more specifically Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) data analysis available to anyone.
The sequencing data analysis problem
NGS technologies are rapidly evolving in the last decades. Powerful methods, which address biological problems far beyond the assembly of a genome or the generation of gene expression profiles, are constantly being developed. At the same time, sequencing costs dropped dramatically, leading to a wide adoption of NGS technologies in life science laboratories and biotechnological companies. However, the increasing amount of NGS data and the accompanying demand for proper data analysis comes with a problem:
The number of available bioinformaticians able to analyse the data remains low, while they are often already overloaded with work. This leads to unreasonable turnaround times and slows down scientific progress. Furthermore, there is often a lack in communication and understanding between life scientist and bioinformatician, resulting in frustration on both sides.
But what about…
… academic collaborations?
Certainly scientific collaborations are the first choice for most academic researchers because they are usually free of charge in exchange for a spot on your publication. However, these bioinformatics experts are often flooded with requests. So even though you do not pay money, you pay with long turnaround times.
… learning to code yourself?
Everybody started learning bioinformatics from scratch at some point, but it takes time and hard work. Managing everyday projects and learning how to code on the side is quite a challenge. Furthermore, the quality of results may suffer when the analysis is performed by an inexperienced person.
… hiring a full-time expert?
If you are continuously using NGS methods in your research, finding a dedicated full-time bioinformatician is certainly the best option. If you only have a project from time to time and want to start immediately, this is just not motivated as it takes time and effort to find a suitable person and is a lasting commitment.
This is why we believe that a professional bioinformatics service company can be beneficial for the scientific community, both in academia and biotech.
So who are we?
We are Alexander Neumann, Didrik Olofsson and Tom Haltenhof – three life scientists who worked together in the RNA biochemistry lab led by Prof. Florian Heyd at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Our work was focussed on combining wet-lab methods with applied bioinformatics to learn more about alternative splicing in various organisms and settings. We soon came to be working as full-time computational biologists when more and more people approached us to ask for help with their sequencing data. We very much enjoyed helping our colleagues boost their research but also experienced how overwhelming it can become to handle multiple collaborative projects at a time.
After graduation, we secured the EXIST Business Start-up Grant, a government-backed programme for innovative knowledge-based ideas. In the beginning of 2020, we established Omiqa Bioinformatics to provide access to advanced bioinformatics for any life scientist who would like to integrate it into their research.
Bridging the gap between biology and bioinformatics
Before starting the company, we identified multiple pain points that cause distress and prevent researchers from using current bioinformatics service companies. We strongly believe that these annoyances can and must be eliminated in order to provide real value for our clients. Identifying these pain points led to five principles that we follow to ensure best customer experience and tangible results:
- Communication is key to success. From the initial inquiry to the last interaction when we transfer results, responsiveness is of the utmost importance. To ensure a smooth project flow we clearly communicate a project roadmap, give regular status updates and incorporate our clients into the data analysis process by having multiple quick feedback cycles.
- Biology shapes the analysis. Proper data processing is only one side of the coin. The other is an understanding of the underlying biology. By combining biochemical and computational expertise, we ensure results that are to the point and enable robust biological insight.
- Data handling must be simple and secure. More and larger datasets are being produced nowadays and they need to be transferred, processed and stored. We simplify data handling by providing fast and secure transfer as well as reliable and cost-effective storage solutions.
- Analysis speed counts. Compared to data sampling and sequencing, data processing can be performed quickly. We concentrate on delivering results as fast as possible, reducing waiting times for our clients from months to weeks, sometimes even days.
- Results should be comprehensible. We believe that it is the bioinformaticians job to not only offer data tables, but also their insights. What can be learned from the data? What are striking patterns? What do the results actually mean? We do not just crunch data, we provide actionable results.
Outsourcing bioinformatics to the private sector is not yet common practice. However, we experience a shift in mentality towards using a contract research organisation. With the words from one of our clients:
“I would rather pay for the analysis than wait for months without getting any useful results.”