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BIOSIS Looks for a Partner
Posted On May 19, 2003
One of the most venerable database producers has announced it is looking for one or more partners that will expand its available resources. The BIOSIS board of trustees stated in a press release that it is exploring strategic options to "ensure enhanced growth, enriched product development, and continued access to biological literature."

According to Linda Sacks, senior vice president, product development and marketing, BIOSIS chose to announce its intentions in order to attract interested companies, while quelling any potential rumors. While she admitted that the company did not reach its revenue goals in 2002, she said it was starting 2003 in good shape. Sacks emphasized that BIOSIS is "not a company in trouble" but one that is just too small to grow, given the changes in the scientific communications process.

James H. Beach, chair of the BIOSIS board, stated: "As traditional subject and content boundaries merge, users want and need integrated access to indices, abstracts, full-text articles, supporting data and other materials. We believe that it is in the best interests of the biological research and education communities for BIOSIS to partner with another organization that can help integrate the BIOSIS databases into a broader scientific publishing environment."

BIOSIS published its first index, Biological Abstracts, in 1926, with 1,878 references. Today, the company's premier database, BIOSIS Previews contains more than 13 million references and is growing by a half million records per year. According to the announcement, BIOSIS seeks to encompass both the Biological Abstracts and Zoological Record product lines within a new structure.

In Dec. 2002, BIOSIS announced some major content and functionality enhancements to its databases, based on the organization's conversion to XML for its file format. This gives it greater flexibility to make changes across all its databases. The company also said it would expand beyond its academic market concentration to reach out more to companies active in bioscience research and development, particularly in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.

At the same time, BIOSIS launched its free BiologyBrowser (, an interactive portal designed for the life sciences community. The site, designed to complement, not compete, with its proprietary databases, offers science news, discussion forums, more than 12,000 quality-controlled Web links, and other free resources.

The BIOSIS board says it has engaged Boston, Massachusetts-based Knowledge Solutions LLC, "Strategic Advisors to Content Companies," to advise it in exploring and assessing new options. One co-founder, Ron Akie, was CEO of SilverPlatter before it was sold to Wolters Kluwer. The other co-founder is Joel Baron, former vice president for publishing at the Massachusetts Medical Society where he was publisher of the New England Journal of Medicine and other titles.

Sacks is also well-known in the industry and should be able to leverage her connections to help find the right partner. She indicated that over the past 4 to 5 years, "a number of parties have expressed interest in BIOSIS," though the company never sought this.

Sacks has 20 years experience in the electronic publishing field. Prior to BIOSIS, Sacks served as marketing director for Elsevier Science. At Elsevier, she managed numerous international product lines, including EMBASE and Geobase. Previous to her service at Elsevier, she served as director, electronic information services for the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). In April Sacks was named president-elect of the National Federation of Abstracting and Indexing Services (NFAIS).

BIOSIS has experienced some uncertainty in leadership over the last several years, with John Doyle acting as interim president in 2001. Tom Manning was then hired but stayed less than a year. Since then, Doyle and Sacks have been acting as co-managers of the organization. Sacks said BIOSIS would not appoint a new president until it sees the results of its partnership search.

For now, Sacks said, "it's business as usual here." The company is optimistic it will find a "good fit" in a partner, one that will capitalize on the strengths of the BIOSIS products and has the funding to allow it to expand and better compete in the global scientific information markets.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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