How OpenSpecimen spied a business opportunity in banking your blood, saliva and DNA
The global bio-banks market, forecast to reach $216.3 million by 2018, faces challenges due to lack of standardized and quality biospecimens, the availability of which is crucial to clinical research and is considered one of the 10 ideas changing the world by Time magazine.
Spying a business opportunity - high-quality well-annotated biospecimens for research are in high demand but very limited in availability - Srikanth Adiga launched OpenSpecimen in 2012, an open source bio-banking informatics platform which provides access to high-quality human biospecimens such as blood, saliva, plasma, DNA and RNA.
The motto of OpenSpecimen is “biospecimens without highquality data are of no value.” Hence, the distinguishing feature of the free and open source bio-bank management database is that it collects and processes standards-based data specific to a disease or study requirements. Currently, more than 30 bio-banks spanning 13 countries are using OpenSpecimen.
OpenSpecimen was initially launched in 2004 as caTissue, with funding from National Cancer Institute (US), and in collaboration with US academic research centres, such as Washington University. Srikanth was one of the first developers on the project; he joined it while he was working at Persistent Systems in Pune. In 2011, when funding was withdrawn from the project, Krishagni Solutions took over its development, while maintaining the product’s open source nature.
The OpenSpecimen LIMS application allows bio-repositories to track biospecimens from collection to utilization across multiple projects, collect annotations, storage containers, track requests and distribution, and has multiple reporting options. It streamlines management across collection, consent, QC, request and distribution and is highly configurable and customizable. Krishagni actively develops newer versions, provides professional support and is working on internationalisation of the product, starting with Chinese and Spanish versions.
Biobankers from across the globe acknowledged, at last year's annual community meeting, that OpenSpecimen fulfils many critical needs of the biobanking industry.
Bootstrapped and ‘will remain so’
“We are fully bootstrapped, and are not looking for funding unless a partner brings with him strategic value, in terms of industry expertise and network,” says Srikanth, who has not yet talked to any investors.
Elaborating on the business model, he explains that the biggest advantage is that the database is open source, and the biggest difference is the licensing model. Being open source, the platform is free for use. Users are charged only for consultancy services like support, installation, data migration, customizations, integrations, and so forth.
“Academic research centres love open source, since it promotes collaboration and eliminates single vendor lock-in. That is why we continue to follow the liberal open source structure, even after the NCI withdrew funds,” Srikanth says, adding “we have the people, experience, expertise and resources to enable our clients to adopt it the right way".
Response and challenges
OpenSpecimen does not have a sales and marketing team.Yet, end-user feedback has been very positive, and clients keep coming through word-of-mouth.
“All our investment has gone into building a world-class product that is easy to use and high quality. This strategy has enabled us to make rapid improvements to the product, and solve real problems. Also, we follow the strategy of the end-user community driving product development. Our end users help us define requirements, and validate implementation,” says Srikanth.
Yet, the venture is not without challenges. The challenge for OpenSpecimen is being India-based and selling to the international market.
Srikanth points out that sales needs follow-ups, face-to-face meetings and demos. “For a company of our size, hiring full time sales personnel is not value for money. So we have started working with distributors and partners who have experience with biobanks. For example, someone who sells freezers and other instruments to biobanks is great for us to partner with,” he says. OpenSpecimen has recently tied up with an Australian partner and is in talks with some others in other geographies.
Srikanth envisions reaching 100 biobanks in the next one year. He is also looking at expanding into SaaS-based and cloud-based offerings, to attract commercial biobanks. “Our next generation version, which has been developed incorporating thelatest technologies, is being released. We are hoping it will fuel further adoption across the globe,” he says. OpenSpecimen v2.0 has a refreshingly new user interface, tablet (iPad) support, 100% REST APIs and a highly scalable system architecture, built using the latest web technology.