Monsanto-Atlas alliance targets bioinformatics

The great thing about many informatics tools is that they are useful across multiple industries, which could include a drug discovery firm or an outfit that is engineering crop seeds.

Informatics was noted along with biology and genomics as an area of priority in a collaboration announced this week between Cambridge, MA-based venture group Atlas Venture and agribusiness giant Monsanto ($MON), which is headquartered in St. Louis. FierceBiotech IT talked to Atlas partner Jean-Francois Formela about the informatics piece of the new partnership, which builds on Monsanto's previous relationship with Atlas as a limited partner investor in the venture firm's latest fund. Dow Jones VentureWire reported that the fund closed at $283 million in 2008.

In the multi-year collaboration, Atlas and Monsanto are working together to evaluate new informatics technologies that could be used to support all types life sciences research. As part of the evaluation process, Monsanto is interested in testing the technologies under consideration at its own research facilities, Formela said. This could include informatics or other technologies from academic groups, those spun out from large companies or other sources. Monsanto wants the technology for use in its agricultural biotech research, Formela said, but there could be cases in which a startup is funded to develop the same technology for the healthcare market. In his interview with Dow Jones, Formela said that he expected the collaboration to lead to two seed-stage investments a year.

"Point number one is that we wouldn't just be looking at bioinformatics for (agricultural biotech)," Formela told FierceBiotech IT. "Second of all applicable to any life sciences and biological information whether it's plant cells, insect cells or human cells."

Atlas, which is an early-stage investor in life sciences and tech firms, has some experience in investing in companies that have built expertise in bioinformatics as part of their strategies, Formela said. Those companies include deCODE Genetics, a provider of genomic research products and services, and the cancer drug developer Exelixis ($EXEL), which specializes in genomics-based drug discovery. Atlas also backed SpotFire (now part of TIBCO Software ($TIBX)), which provides data analytics software used for life sciences research as well as other industries.

- here's the Monsanto release
- check out the Dow Jones report