Symyx Technologies

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Symyx Technologies
Founded 1994
Headquarters Santa Clara, CA USA
Key people Isy Goldwasser, CEO
Steven D. Goldby, Executive Chairman
Rex S. Jackson, Executive Vice President and General Counsel
W. Henry Weinberg Ph.D., Executive Vice President and CTO
Products Electronic lab notebook and R&D execution and analysis software, lab automation and breakthrough materials technology
Employees 400

Symyx Technologies was a company specializing in the area of combinatorial chemistry. Symyx had a portion of its business that focused on software solution like Enterprise Laboratory Notebooks. This software business is now part of Accelrys. Symyx also offered laboratory robotics systems for performing automated chemical research. In 2010, this business was spun out as Freeslate, Inc.

Symyx offered high-speed combinatorial technologies for the discovery of new materials. Using proprietary technologies - including instruments, software and methods - Symyx was able to generate hundreds to thousands of unique materials at a time and screen those materials rapidly and automatically for desired properties. This approach can deliver results hundreds to thousands of times faster than traditional research methods, at a fraction of the cost.[1]

Symyx is applied this technology to revolutionize materials discovery in the life sciences, chemical, and electronics industries. Founded in 1994 by Dr. Alejandro Zaffaroni and Dr. Peter G. Schultz, Symyx' conceptual basis draws from Affymax, Inc. and Affymetrix, Inc., which commercialized the use of high-speed combinatorial methods for pharmaceutical and genetic research, respectively.[2] Symyx screens about a million materials a year and has produced a product pipeline with several materials that have the potential to be commercialized in the next few years. Examples of their discovery efforts include X-ray storage phosphors for radiography, polymers to speed DNA research and catalysts for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, chemicals and plastics.

In 2007 Symyx Technologies acquired MDL Information Systems (originally Molecular Design Limited, Inc.), a provider of R&D informatics in the chemistry and life sciences industries, which had been launched as a computer-aided drug design firm in January 1978 in Hayward, California. With this purchase came the purveyorship of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-NIOSH Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS,, a database of basic toxicity information on household chemical substances, food additives, drugs, solvents, biocides, and chemical waste components which as of first quarter of 2012 contained ≈170,000 entries. In 2008, Symyx sold non-RTECS portions of the occupational health and safety (OHS) component of the MDL business to ChemAdvisor, Inc., of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Subsequent innovations derived from these business components included an enterprise electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) capable of supporting multiple scientific disciplines.[3]

In 2010 Symyx spun off their laboratory robotics business as Freeslate, Inc. Freeslate now focuses on the delivery of high throughput systems for automating chemical research. Freeslate leverages its scientific expertise through its team of Ph.D. scientists, engineers, and software developers with directly relevant experience in the industries it serves to continue to deliver game changing high throughput solutions. In 2010, the remaining Symyx software business merged with Accelrys, with the combined company being known simply as Accelrys.[4][5]

The concept of combinatory chemistry (outside of bio-tech area) was the focus of Symyx. However, the initial Symyx’s business model was to provide contract research for large chemical companies at a contract size from $0.5 Million to $200 Millions. The business model sealed the fate of the company: initial success in gaining enough contracts to reach profitability; small deals with first few customers led to large deals, such as with Exxon; not enough deals to feed the company; then started to sell equipment which was a part of the core of the company (the final spinoff company, Freeslate). One other key point was the company had to develop new tools and hire new people when a new project came up because the contract was in a brand new research area, required different expertise. Therefore the research contract business was not scalable. That’s the main reason the company was gone, even with over 500 patents! Other companies followed Symyx’s path. Intermolecular licensed Symyx patents on electronic materials and is developing tools for the electronic materials companies. The question is whether there is a large and growing market for the tools. The Intermolecular stock price tells the story: the stock lost ~ 80% value from 2012 to 2014. It seems that selling ideas or tools look not like a sustainable business model.


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