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Small colleges get their own grant program

Madison, Wis. - To address non-existent sales to the nation's small colleges, DNASTAR, Inc. has announced it will provide grants to small colleges to help them acquire its Lasergene sequence analysis software.

The nation's small colleges produce some novel scientific research, but they don't always have the resources to invest in advanced research tools. As part of what DNASTAR calls the Rising Star grant program, eligible colleges and universities can receive up to $2,500 in matching funds toward the purchase of the company's bioinformatics research tool. DNASTAR will make an initial commitment of $100,000 in matching funds for the program, and that money will come from company revenues.

DNASTAR has developed software for more than 20 years, but has yet to crack the small college market. The company felt it had to do something different to support the academic research community in genomics, and the Rising Star initiative will permit it to reach out to smaller institutions.

"We're excited about it," said Tom Schwei, the company's vice president and general manager. "We hope it's a breakthrough for us to get this tool in the hands of many more scientists."

In the past 20 years, DNASTAR has served between 10 and 15 percent of the nation's colleges and universities, but they have been the major research universities - the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Michigan, and Washington University in St. Louis among them.
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"We just have not been able to penetrate the market for the smaller colleges," Schwei said. "A lot of that has to do with the fact that many small colleges don't have heavy research programs, and our primary product, Lasergene, is very much a research tool."

Many of the smaller colleges that do have research programs are handicapped by very limited budgets, prompting DNASTAR to bridge the gap. "There is good stuff going on there," Schwei noted, "and sometimes it's on a shoestring budget."

State university schools are among the potential new customers that might emerge as a result of Rising Star - not UW-Madison, and probably not UW-Milwaukee, but smaller public universities and private colleges. To qualify for the funding, institutions must not have been prior customers of DNASTAR, and they must not enjoy large amounts of federal funding. "If they have got molecular biology research going on, and they have never been a customer before, there is a good chance they would qualify," Schwei said.

Lasergene is a suite of software tools for molecular biologists and geneticists who analyze or manipulate DNA and protein sequences in their research, and it has been sold in more than 65 countries. It can be purchased for as little as $1,500 for what Schwei called "a slimmed down use of the product," but a full suite can run as high as $4,000. In that case, the dollar-per-dollar matching program would cover half the cost. The network version of Lasergene costs closer to $5,000, which would bring the maximum grant to $2,500.

In their sites

Earlier this month, DNASTAR and Washington University, where the Human Genome Project was founded, announced the signing of a site license agreement that allows the university to use Lasergene anywhere on its campus over a four-year period.

Schwei said the company also is seeking to increase market demand for site license arrangements with major research institutions that find it advantageous to adopt a standard, "institute-wide" software platform. The site license agreements allow institutions to use as many copies of DNASTAR's software as they need for any research purpose. In a site license situation, the company can sell to one computer at a time, or to small, medium, and large networks. In the case of Washington University, every faculty member, undergraduate, post doctorate, and graduate student will be able to use the software.

DNASTAR has site licenses with three of the top four pharmaceutical companies, but there is growing momentum for academic organizations to focus their purchasing on one group. Schwei said site licensing is simpler for centralized information technology managers to administer and coordinate, and there is a significant volume pricing benefit in using the same tool across departments. "They of course get significant economies of scale from a pricing perspective," he said, "and I think there is also a standardization component."

In addition to Lasergene, DNASTAR develops StarBlast, a DNA and protein database searching tool; GenVision, a data visualization software product; and ArrayStar, a microarray gene expression and visualization tool.

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