Iconix ADT Magazine Innovator Award Submission

I. Project Information

Company Name: Iconix Pharmaceuticals
Project Overview:

The daunting task of integrating, analyzing, and clearly presenting volumes of information that span several databases is a major challenge for the pharmaceutical industry. To address this problem, Iconix Pharmaceuticals developed DrugMatrix, a single-source database of insights collected from across multiple data domains using the disciplines of chemistry and genomics. DrugMatrix is built on a three-tiered architecture consisting of a data warehouse, an application server, and a sophisticated Web UI created using TIBCO General Interface, an AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) toolkit for Rich Internet Applications (RIA).

II. Organizational Objectives

The DrugMatrix solution

Iconix developed the DrugMatrix database to deliver the company’s chemogenomics database as effectively as possible to its customers. In building this solution, Iconix knew it would need to couple high-performance information processing capabilities with an interactive, feature-rich GUI that would allow researchers to conduct iterative searches and interact with the information displayed on their PC screens.

Considered one of the most capable web developer technologies available, AJAX today enables search engines and other consumer applications to significantly enrich the user experience for people surfing the net. Iconix leveraged AJAX, embedded in a RIA framework, to build its real-time data DrugMatrix application to look, feel, and perform like desktop software. Further, an AJAX approach helped Iconix bring the product to market twice as fast and decrease the development costs by two-thirds compared to building a standard client/server architecture.

In the process of developing DrugMatrix, Iconix explored the possibility of in-house developed technologies and vendor-provided solutions. Iconix rejected all vendor solutions except for a mature RIA offering from TIBCO Software, called TIBCO General Interface, because the others tended to offer JSP or HTML-based solutions—albeit with some modifications—that were not a significant improvement over what it had initially considered.

Iconix believes that the benefits AJAX offers are not unique to the development environment at Iconix. AJAX enables robust functionality and similar benefits to any enterprise developing an application in an RIA framework. AJAX makes it possible to deploy highly functional browser-based applications without the disruption or costs typical of developing and rolling out thick client desktop applications.

Project Scope:

Iconix makes the vast body of information contained in its chemogenomics DrugMatrix database available to its customers—leading pharmaceutical companies that rely on effective new drug development, including Schering-Plough, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Abbott Laboratories.

DrugMatrix integrates publicly available drug literature with extensive amounts of experimental data generated by Iconix research laboratories. To date, Iconix has tested more than 900 drugs in its laboratories, characterizing each drug’s activities in a panel of 130 bioassays. Even more compelling for pharmaceutical customers is the data that DrugMatrix provides in the area of gene expression, a newly emerging discipline that uses microarray technology to measure the level of gene expression for large numbers of genes. Iconix has run 12,000 microarrays—each of which measures gene expression for about 10,000 genes—to generate 120 million data points in the DrugMatrix database for gene expression alone.

Project Benefits:

DrugMatrix’s intuitive, high-productivity GUI meets the information requirements of pharmaceutical companies in an easy-to-use, highly interactive web application that functions like a traditional thick client. The development team at Iconix was interested not only in creating a GUI that could consolidate a wide variety of drug-related information but also in providing numerous views of that data. In addition, the team was committed to developing an application that transcended the page and document basis of typical Web pages and didn’t cost an arm and a leg to build and maintain overtime.

Specifically, the use of AJAX technology in the development of DrugMatrix has allowed Iconix to:

  • Integrate more than 200 million complex drug data points in a visually rich, interactive interface
  • Deliver DrugMatrix to market twice as fast and reduce development costs by two-thirds when compared to standard client server architecture
  • Leverage GUI technology to differentiate its offerings from competitors

On the customer side, Iconix’s use of a standard web browser saves companies the costs of deploying and maintaining a desktop software application.

The Iconix team expected that an AJAX-enabled RIA solution would hasten its development of DrugMatrix, and they were right, as the following example illustrates:

In a scientific research house like Iconix, there is a continual need for new or modified tools. One of its biggest challenges—and a significant source of cost—is to quickly develop usable specifications for new products.

Prior to using an RIA framework-based approach to the Internet Development Environment (IDE), Iconix would create feature specifications in a paint program and submit them to a product development committee. The process typically consumed three to four weeks, with the effort of creating the visuals taking the greatest amount of time.

Currently, Iconix developers can generate or change feature specifications on the fly, often in the midst of a development committee meeting. These working specifications are 80 percent complete and require very little further refinement, which decreases development time.

III. Category

E-business Application Development

IV. Methodology/Process

The Iconix development team considered and rejected several design approaches.

The first was to embed Java applets in Web pages.This approach proved to be inefficient based on the size of chemogenomics database alone. Given the necessity to load a tremendous amount of data into an applet at each query, it was clear that the application would quickly get bogged down.

The second possibility was to use a Java Server Pages (JSP) model in which data is piped into a JSP. Although the process worked reasonably well, the team found that the amount of data that could be displayed on a page would overwhelm users. Also, from a performance perspective, graphic data was very slow to render and transfer. As an example, the Iconix Confidence Interval Graphic—which displays gene expression data at a glance—took at least 2 to 3 seconds to download, because the solution relied upon a specialized image servlet that generated each image individually.

The third design alternative—the one that the team chose—was a RIA framework coupled with an interface builder. This mature solution, created by TIBCO Software, easily manages the complexities of AJAX. It includes features that helped the team deliver DrugMatrix to market faster than other solutions considered and also reduced development costs:

  • Visual authoring tools, familiar APIs, and libraries of extensible, high-performance GUI components
  • Componentized, open standards-based architecture that enables re-use and customization of objects
  • Support for synchronous, asynchronous, and real-time communication capabilities through leading standards and protocols such as HTTP/S, XML and SOAP

Lastly, the RIA alternative allowed the use of XML data to generate full-color HTML tables representing a screen image far more rapidly than Iconix’s tests with Java applets and JSPs.

V. Technology

DrugMatrix is built on a three-tiered eXtensible Informatics (XIS) architecture, consisting of a data warehouse, an application server (including an Iconix proprietary communications mechanism), and a user interface. XIS architecture is flexible, supporting continuous evolution of the data model and user interface. The application server is configured using meta data that describes the data warehouse model. The user interface is dynamically configured using meta data to allow search and display of all items in the data model. The application server uses plug-ins to simplify add data analysis and visualization tools to the software.

VI. Project Team

Iconix started developing DrugMatrix using AJAX technologies before ever hearing of AJAX, about three years ago. The initial development team consisted of seven people, two to three of whom were engineers. In six months Iconix was able to design and implement a product that everyone was proud of. By January 2006, Iconix plans to complete the process of exposing DrugMatrix as a Web service. The result will be a unique tool that integrates more than 200 million drug data points with an unprecedented degree of accessibility.