Spun out of George Church's lab, Curoverse gets $1.5M for open-source bio Big Data

Open-source companies have had a big impact on parts of IT. The model is being used by Rackspace in cloud computing, Acquia in content management and Red Hat in operating systems. Now a startup out of Harvard Medical School is applying the model to bio Big Data and has raised $1.5 million to advance its ambitions.

Curoverse is targeting three markets: clinical research, diagnostic testing and precision medicine. While Curoverse views clinical research as the biggest near-term opportunity, each sector will ultimately need to better manage and analyze their rapidly expanding reservoirs of data. "The vast majority of people are rolling their own custom systems," Curoverse CEO Adam Berrey told FierceBiotech IT. Berrey thinks this distracts them from doing medical and scientific work that should form the core of their responsibilities.

Curoverse has its roots back in 2006 when Harvard Medical School's George Church challenged his team to build a system for cheaply storing and analyzing the anticipated deluge of data from the Personal Genome Project. Church said the system must support the sharing of data and its computations must be reproducible. Instead of adopting a high-performance computing strategy, the team looked at how Google ($GOOG) and Yahoo ($YHOO) were managing their Big Data for inspiration.

The system, called Arvados, was deployed on the Personal Genome Project and now runs a private cloud with 300 terabytes of storage and 500 cores. This runs genomic analysis for the Harvard Personal Genome Project and supports research at the university medical school. Having rolled out the system at Harvard, some of the team saw other organizations would need similar capabilities and began setting up a company last year. The result is Curoverse, a contributor to the open-source software developed at the Church lab.

Working with open-source software is important to the company. "No single vendor will control this fundamental technology," Berrey said. The company already quietly released software to the open-source community and is now using its funding to hire engineers to build the next generation of the system. While all the software will be freely available, Curoverse will offer paid packages that take on some of the administrative load of setting up a Big Data system. Red Hat ($RHT) uses a similar business model.

"The open-source model is working really well in other IT categories," Berrey said. Investors are beginning to show an interest in open-source bio businesses too. British open-source bioinformatics business Eagle Genomics raised $1.6 million from Midven's Rainbow Seed Fund and others last month and regulatory filings show BioDatomics has received $360,000 over the past six months. Berry sees investor-backed companies playing an important role in maintaining and improving open-source biomedical software.

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