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New Company Forms to Ease Scientific Data Operations

Data pointing finger

(Vitaly Vlasov, Pexels)

16 Aug. 2021. A new company spun off from Harvard University aims to simplify data analysis, management, and collaboration for life science researchers. Pluto Biosciences Inc., in Denver, licenses technology first developed at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering to offer online computational biology and bioinformatics services.

Pluto Biosciences adapts its processes from the Wyss Institute’s OrbitSeq platform designed to help life science researchers, particularly those working in multiple remote locations, to share, review, and analyze their data. OrbitSeq seeks to solve a basic problem in experimental biology: integrating large and incompatible data sets that often force collaborators to use third-party solutions not designed for scientific research, which often adds to the time and complexity of getting the job done.

The institute relied on systems now making up OrbitSeq to integrate and manage data in a recent crash project to find treatments for Covid-19 infections in drugs already approved by FDA for other diseases. Those systems, says Wyss Institute, enabled teams from labs at University of Maryland in Baltimore and Mount Sinai medical center in New York to analyze data sets for numerous approved drugs, then coordinate further drug discovery and preclinical studies on organ chips and with animals to identify the most promising candidates.

Rani Powers, a Wyss Institute staff scientist who worked on the Covid-19 project, founded Pluto Biosciences last month. The company says it enables researchers to upload shared data sets to a common repository, drag-and-drop subsets of the data for separate analysis, and produce graphics from built-in bioinformatics tools. Pluto Bio says it adapts tech industry engineering practices to find common underlying data structures to enable analyzing results from previous incompatible software formats, even with complex data generated by biomedical research.

Algorithms for comparing data across data sets

“At tech companies, we encounter technical challenges related to data storage and user experience every day,” says Powers in a Wyss Institute statement. “These aren’t easy problems, but they’re addressable with a combination of engineering and design, and solving them is crucial for creating products that users love. So I wondered, why we weren’t applying this approach to the software we use for science?”

Thus, a key aim of Pluto Bio is to simplify access for researchers to high-powered analytical engines. The company says it makes tools available for producing more complex graphics, such as heat maps and volcano plots, that often require specialized knowledge or are limited to a few statistical packages. Moreover, Pluto Bio says it connects to next-generation sequencing services and is implementing algorithms for comparing data across different data sets. And the company provides access to publicly-available experimental data, which it offers as a free service to researchers.

“Although cloud-based bioinformatics and data analysis tools exist for scientists to use,” notes Powers, “their interfaces are unnecessarily complicated to navigate.” Powers adds, “Popular consumer apps have demonstrated that it’s possible to combine simple design with powerful computation, so that was the driving vision for the platform.”

The company says it plans to expand its coverage of organisms, experiment types, and analytical methods, as well as provide more predictive analysis and biomarker identification tools in the coming months.

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