The first alliance of Australian bioinformatics groups to be created with a commercial focus has sprung up in Queensland.
The May 20 launch of the Queensland Bioinformatics Consortium adds another layer to the state's growing reputation as a hot spot for Australian bioinformatics activity.
Initial members of the consortium include Brisbane-based company Genetraks, a bioinformatics-based start-up which has raised more than $6 million from investors and the Queensland University of Technology.
IBM is involved with the consortium, as is the University of Queensland, whose new Queensland Bioscience Precinct is predicted to become one of the largest employers of specialists in computational biology.
Genetraks CEO Dr Roslyn Brandon, who spearheaded the formation of the consortium, said it would place a stronger accent on commercialisation efforts and technology transfers with the private sector than the Victorian Bioinformatics Consortium. The VBC's membership consists mainly of publicly-funded institutes and is oriented more toward pure research.
The QBC's stated goals are to underpin growth in bioinformatics, facilitate training and technology transfer, foster networking between bioinformaticians and raise the awareness of bioinformatics among public and private sector organisations.
The new group's commercial focus was underscored by the presence at its inaugural meeting of representatives from two listed US companies with high profiles in bioinformatics -- Gene Logic and Gene Data.
Gene Logic, which went public in 1999 with a $US250 million float, has been a leading supplier of genomics-based information and bioinformatics products to pharmaceutical companies and more recently has added biotechs to its target market.
It does not have a permanent presence in Australia but in addition to links with Genetraks, the US company has ties to other domestic bioinformatics specialists, including Dr Terry Speed of Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, said Gene Logic senior director of business development Ron Hencin.
IBM's newly-appointed Asia-Pacific life sciences solutions manager, Tim Littlejohn, a NSW-based pioneering member of Australia's private bioinformatics sector, took a significant role in organising the new group. He suggested it would act to unite the Queensland bioinformatics community and link it with organisations in other states to build capacity for Australia to be more globally competitive.
Queensland is about to embark on a sharp scaling-up of its demand for bioinformaticians, according to Mark Ragan, head of the bioinformatics section of Queensland's leading biotech research centre, the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.
The institute currently has between 20 and 30 specialists in bioinformatics and molecular modelling affiliated with it but that number could rise to about 80 over a relatively short period, Ragan predicted.