President: Alok Prasad
The "Semantic Web" has been one of the more sexy concepts in computing for years, yet making the technology for understanding the meaning of information on the web accessible to the masses has been a challenge. Cambridge Semantics, which derives about half of its business from the life sciences industry, has developed the middleware and end-user tools to put semantic tech into the hands of drug developers without requiring scads of IT folks to deliver on the promise of semantics. AstraZeneca ($AZ), Biogen Idec ($BIIB) and Merck ($MRK) are just a few of the major industry players that have bought into the start-up's big idea to make the technology easily accessible.
"I think the pharma industry in many ways bankrolled all the R&D behind the semantic standards," Sean Martin, the chief technology officer of Cambridge Semantics, told FierceBiotechIT. "They were by far the earliest adopters and by far the people pushing the standards. I think the reason for that is the data integration issues are so enormous across the board, not just in the [drug] R&D area but every part of their business. It's just massively complicated and expensive to [solve] data-integration issues. What they were looking for was for semantic technologies to address that, and, broadly speaking, that's exactly what is going to be done."
The firm's semantics software has been used to standardize different types of data from different sources. Once the data is virtualized under one standard, the firm's end-user tools analyze and visualize data in order to give companies operational insights that can make businesses run efficiently. The key differentiators for Cambridge Semantics are the speed and the cost-effectiveness with which it can integrate data. For example, Martin said, his firm was able to bridge databases for a medical devices manufacturer less than two weeks after the customer's internal IT group had spent about 9 months to complete a similar project.
Cambridge Semantics has found the outsourcing trend in pharma to be another big driver for demand of data integration technologies, as drug developers seek to gain visibility of the projects they give to contractors. Still, there are many companies that have technologies and services promising to tackle life sciences companies' data integration woes, meaning the upstart has the challenge of getting customers to warm up to its approach for solving the problem.