Tête-à-tête with Thomas Darde

Omics has been a hot topic in the 21st century; Genomics, transcriptomics, metabolomics, proteomics, lipidomics, etc. Nevertheless, omics hasn’t been without its challenges in terms of technical developments. For many scientists, the amount of data generated from most omics studies has been overwhelming. It has become indispensable in biology to have bioinformatic skills, which adds to our growing list of reproductive skillset.  Likewise, the need for public databases where scientists could compare their data to other datasets has also increased.

In 2015, Thomas Darde published a paper in Nucleic Acids Research, introducing the ReproGenomics Viewer [1], a multi- and cross-species working environment for the visualization, mining, and comparison of published omics data sets for the reproductive science community. Thomas continued to work on this project during his PhD studies and in 2019 published the introduction of the completely redesigned ReproGenomics Viewer [2]. However, the knowledge and skills gained through his studies proved to be so invaluable, that Thomas later could transform his scientific career into his own company, SciLicium. At the coming NYRA meeting in Caux, Thomas will share his entrepreneurial story with us. Below you can read more about Thomas and his background.

In biology, the word omics refers to the sum of constituents within a cell. The omics sciences share the overarching aim of identifying, describing, and quantifying the biomolecules and molecular processes that contribute to the form and function of cells and tissues [3].

What is your academic background and how did you end up in the field of reproductive biology?

I have a degree in biology, biochemistry, and biotechnology. Passionate about computer science, I naturally turned to bioinformatics where I obtained a master’s degree in bioinformatics and genomics. During my internships, I had the chance to meet Frédéric Chalmel, an expert in reproductive genomics, who proposed I join his team to work on the prediction of reprotoxic effects of compounds by predictive toxicogenomics approaches.

In short, I reached the field of reproductive biology by luck 😉

How did you come up with the idea for your company and when did you decide to bring the idea to life?

The big question!

The story began during a walk with Frédéric Chalmel in the port of Vannes in 2018. At that time we noticed that there was a gap between the people who had the skills to analyze the data and those who could interpret them. It is on this idea that the concept of SciLicium was born 🙂

The name of SciLicium appeared in 2018 during the ECA in Budapest: “Sci” for Science, “Li” for Life (Science of life), and “cium” for Silicium (basic materials for computer components).

However, it took until 2020 to move from the idea to the creation of the company. This was my time of transition. At that time I was at the head of research and development of a young French startup with a monthly secured salary, however, I could not identify myself in terms of human and scientific values in this position. Furthermore, I needed time to gain confidence in myself, and to establish (financial) support from partners.

What is the concept of your company?

The idea behind SciLicium is to offer bioinformatics as a service. Briefly, we provide academic and private companies with our bioinformatics expertise in the fields of transcriptomics (RNA-seq, Single-cell), metagenomics, toxicogenomics, and bioinformatics development.

This can be done either as a service provider (data pre-processing, BRB-seq sequencing, tailor-made analysis) or as a collaborating society providing a bioinformatician for our project.

In your entrepreneurial journey, it’s rare to have a straightforward path without any obstacles or setbacks. Can you recall a significant setback you’ve experienced? What crucial lesson did you learn from it?

It’s not just a race. When I started this project, I became a bioinformatician, an accountant, a sales and marketing manager, etc. You must be everywhere, all the time, and avoid making mistakes as much as possible. You have to make mistakes; the goal is to limit their impact on society.

One of the obstacles I have encountered is that I have “gone over to the dark side” of science. Some scientists have a very negative view of the commercialization of science.

Client selection is also a major source of error. In the beginning, we tend to say yes to every project, and in a few cases this has led us into complicated situations. We have learned that it is important to clearly and detailed describe every project before starting to avoid clients that actually do not know what they want and change views every week. We have also learned that it is okay to reject a project based on poor data quality even though the client is said to be an expert in mastering the given technology.

Which advice would you give to young researchers who might have an idea and dreams of starting their own?

I’ll be honest, the creation of SciLicium is without a doubt the best thing I’ve done today (and I did a thesis 😊 ). It’s not easy every day but doing what you like when you want with who you want is priceless.

My advice: go for it, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

[1] Darde et al., Bioinformatics. 2019 Sep 1;35(17):3133-3139. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btz047.

[2] Darde et al., Nucleic Acids Res. 2015 Jul 1;43(W1):W109-16. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkv345.

[3] https://www.britannica.com/science/omics

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