by Divina Paredes

CIO50 2019 #26-50: Chris Duran, Biomatters

Mar 28, 2019
Business ContinuityCloud ComputingInnovation

Over a year ago, Chris Duran took on the combined title of chief operating officer and chief technology officer.

Having held the CTO role for four years at Biomatters, Duran was not at all surprised, or unfazed, at his expanded mandate.

These days, technology innovation is an integral component of a company’s value proposition, and this is most evident in technology companies like Biomatters, he states.

“The boundary between internal infrastructure and technology and external technologies for the customer-base are either blurred or removed altogether.”

“I have not only the technology team reporting to me, but I also have executive sponsorship for the data science, scientific/technical support, HR and administration,” he explains.

For around nine months, the marketing team was also reporting to Duran.

During this time, he led the refactoring and deployment of a new website that better represented the company’s shift into a SaaS style business and had a stronger focus on customer engagements.

He says the board at Biomatters believes technology is the driving force behind innovation in the biotechnology industry, and as such, the technology team has both a powerful remit and correspondingly large set of responsibilities.

The technology leadership heavily influences the strategy and direction of the company, says Duran.

There is an annual strategy offsite with the board of directors, and a large proportion of the agenda covers technology strategy and the associated business model.

He says the past two years have seen him and his team work on successfully transitioning the majority of their commercial customer base from a perpetual licensing model to a subscription software model.

This marks the transition away from this traditional business model to a modern SaaS business, powering the next generation of biotechnology innovation and development, he says.

“In an increasingly connected world, our software is augmented and adds value by not only making world class algorithms for scientific analysis accessible to the wider scientific community, but also by being increasingly connected to scientific reference sources and databases,” he says, on the key driver for this change.

“Having a subscription-based model allows us to better serve this dynamic environment with a deeper support coverage, as well as a degree of standardisation of software versioning across the customer base.”

“With a 90 per cent update of our new business model, I would call our vision of being a cloud-first enterprise biotechnology software company, realised.”

To put into perspective the scale of change he and his team had to lead through, he explains that Biomatters’ flagship product is a desktop-based scientific software package for molecular biology RD called Geneious Prime.

“Our traditional business model was machine-based, perpetual product licensing,” he says.

“We sell to over 30,000 user accounts worldwide, including the top 100 university institutions globally, and over 75 per cent to large pharmaceutical firms, he states.

Further to this SaaS transformation, the company has successfully developed and released a new cloud-based product for enterprise Biotechnology customers called Geneious Biologics.

Geneious Biologics is a next-generation cloud software solution purpose-built for commercial antibody discovery and screening.

Delivered through a modern, user-friendly web interface, Geneious Biologics leverages the power of ‘big data’ to help deliver lifesaving drugs of the future, he states.

Geneious Biologics is a next-generation cloud software solution purpose-built for commercial antibody discovery and screening. Delivered through a modern, user-friendly web interface, Geneious Biologics leverages the power of ‘big data’ to help deliver lifesaving drugs of the future.

Geneious Biologics is disrupting the traditional drug discovery business model by enabling high-throughput digital screening capabilities in the drug discovery and development process, he says.

“This allows for a step change in operational efficiency and speed through the drug discovery process for our customers: a multi-year, multi-billion dollar process for larger biologics drug discovery organisations.”

Just over two years on, Geneious Biologics customers already represent two of their largest 10 commercial accounts, representing a step change for the growth and value proposition of Biomatters, says Duran.

Being ‘data-first’

Concurrent with this, Duran leads a data science team whose goal is to bring a ‘data-first’ mentality to both their business operations and product development.

This team is focused on the breaking down of data siloing within the organisation, ensuring that product, marketing, and sales development activities are informed and enriched by insights driven from the activities of their counterpart teams, says Duran.

“This team is bringing real-world data into our strategic decision making, bringing a scientific approach to our strategy execution – a process and cultural shift that fits well with the scientific nature and beginnings of our organisation,” says Duran.

“Our teams have grown substantially over the last three years, across multiple geographies, in New Zealand, United States and Denmark,” he says on the business driver for this new team.

“As our teams grow larger and more geographically disperse, a data driven approach to development and operations becomes increasingly paramount.”

There is the desire to improve the efficiency, accuracy, and speed of the drug discovery process for our customers, using machine learning and other AI techniques to automate not only the process operations component of the drug discovery workflow, but also the automated components of the intelligence operation components, he says.

This type of work usually needs manual intervention, he says. “This is a decreasingly accurate process as data sets become more complex, hitting the limitations of human pattern recognition capabilities.”

He says that to support cloud development, his team has also introduced a cloud-relevant technology ecosystem.

“Our cloud platform is built upon scalable systems such as Mesos and DC/OS, using functional programming paradigms, allowing for abstraction and elegant handling of horizontal scalability and concurrency,” he explains.

“This paradigm is realised through the Typesafe stack, which is a modern, functional, and scalable framework with the robustness and stability of the Java JVM ecosystem. As a previously pure Java desktop environment, this diversification of technologies marks an exciting chapter in the technical side of the organisation.”

Over the past year, he adds that Biomatters has developed a cloud-based PaaS for Bioinformatics.

“We take a platform approach to our technology, underpinning our new technical mandate to deliver future solutions for our customers through cloud-based services. This PaaS have been designed to allow us to rapidly develop and deliver targeted solutions for the biotechnology industry.”

“It has been quite a transformative process getting to this point,” he adds. “We have created a cloud platform development team, in tandem with a cloud-infrastructure operational unit.”

Furthermore, they have created a new technology team in Aarhus, their Danish base of operations, working closely with their product management team for application development and implementation for customer specific functionality and product prototyping.

He says Biomatters has also made transformational adaptations of their existing flagship desktop product, Geneious Prime, transforming it from a desktop application to a scalable and accessible (API/SDK driven) operational engine for their Geneious Biologics application.

“Our desktop application represents over a decade of IP and technical excellence in the biosciences and makes for a perfect platform to catalyse the development of scientific workflows for our customers, significantly reducing time to market, whilst providing a trusted and vetted bioinformatics platform as the nucleus of the solution,” he states.

Techie entrepreneurs

Duran says working for a company that has a strong entrepreneurial culture is important as they forge through the new business model for the cloud era.

The company values independence, autonomy, responsibility, and engagement, he says.

“We always encourage our team members to take an entrepreneurial approach to collaboration: proposing constructive change and giving considered feedback is highly valued.”

We also maintain a balanced approach between taking on people at a graduate level and bringing in experienced talent from a variety of industries to provide a broader perspective.

Staff are strongly encouraged to undertake papers, conferences, and courses that improve or extend their skill sets.

Biomatters holds itself accountable to a well-defined diversity policy and includes a public statement of this policy with all job applications, says Duran.

“We are proud of and nurture the company’s cultural diversity which includes colleagues from Denmark, Russia, Argentina, China, Fiji, Germany, Canada, Australia, UK, USA, and India.”

Duran stresses one other upside for his team at Biomatters.

Every year, Biomatters holds an off-site meeting to discuss the company’s strategic direction for the year ahead.

“Being a technology organisation, we are key participants in this operation.”