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Scylla’s turn

Votorantim Ventures invests in bioinformatics company

Support from venture investments is widening the horizons for the biotechnology market in Brazil. A little over a month after the creation of Alellyx, a research and development company in biotechnology products, the formation of another company, Scylla, was announced, which will be active in the area of bioinformatics. They have in common the fact that they are made up of researchers who were members of the teams responsible for the sequencing of the genomes of Xyllela fastidiosa and Xanthomonas citrii, amongst other projects sponsored by FAPESP. The two companies can also count on the financial support of Votorantim Ventures, a venture capital company of the Votorantim Group that is prepared to invest R$ 300 million in high technology business. Alellyx will be receiving an injection of R$ 30 million from Votorantim, and the funds intended for Scylla have not been made public.

Scylla will have its focus in bioinformatics for the development of genomics and proteomics. One of the main markets will be the pharmaceutical industries, since bioinformatics may be crucial for reducing the time it takes to develop a new medicine, which at the moment may take between ten and 15 years. Bioinformatics makes it possible to filter efficiently the molecules that are really interesting for research and that prove to be more efficient. There are also prospects for business with agricultural and cattle raising companies, and with institutions that need to deal with genomic data. “There is a lot of data made available by genome research. What is missing is a good organization of this data, which bioinformatics can offer”, says João Meidanis, from Unicamp’s Institute of Computing, one of the partners in the company.

Meidanis waited three years for the opportunity of setting up Scylla, in association with four of his pupils: Zanoni Dias and Guilherme Pimentel Telles, studying for their doctorates, Marília Dias Vieira Braga, who has a master’s degree, and Alexandre Corrêa Barbosa, an undergraduate in Computing. “The support from Votorantim Ventures was an important catalysis for it to be created now”, Meidanis recognizes.

Products and business
Scylla’s main product will be innovative software and combined software systems. His partners also intend to develop support systems for sequencing in network and the notation of transport proteins. In any case, the end product will be a database, with organized high quality information, and accessible to those interested. The analysis of the genomic data through bioinformatics is one of the strategic steps for assembling the sequences of genes. Sequencing generates an enormous volume of data that should be accessible by means of specific research tools. “Bioinformatics, for example, has made it possible to assemble 100,000 sequences of the Xylella “, Meidanis recalls.

In spite of the group having built up its competence after taking part in several genome projects, the idea is to “start from scratch”, as Meidanis puts it. “We do not intend to avail ourselves of software and other solutions developed in genome research connected with academic institutions, as these are the property of the universities”, he points out. To show competitiveness and to gain market, over the next four months Scylla’s partners intend to launch at least three new products. They do not rule out the possibility of the company offering a bioinformatics service for genome sequencing projects, including those sponsored by FAPESP, or for companies like its half-sister Alellyx.

The expectation is that Scylla will develop business with a similar structure to that of SWISS-PROT, a Swiss protein database, access to which was originally public and free. “But, with the need for funds, free access was maintained only for academic institutions. Companies that are interested in this data have to pay”, Meidanis declares. “This may be a model for our company, but we need a partner to present us with the data”, he explains.