How to build a market-ready product out of a scientific idea – the success story of Chematica
Chematica's journey is a fascinating one - from its inception as academic software to its acquisition by Merck, one of the world's pharmaceutical giants. Here's a deep dive into our role, the challenges we faced, and how we transformed an academic vision into a market-ready product that caught Merck's attention.
Since 2003, Chematica has been the brainchild of a dedicated team of organic chemists and computer scientists. Their aim? Dynamic cheminformatics software to assist chemists in analyzing reactions and molecules effectively.
In 2016, a new chapter unfolded for Chematica when Code Poets joined the project, having been highly recommended by an external party. This was no ordinary project for us. It was an exhilarating challenge that demanded the translation of theoretical knowledge into a concrete web application. To achieve this transformation, we swiftly assembled a full web app team, with Kamil, our co-founder, leading the tech frontier, and Adrian, our CEO, overseeing the project management.
Shifting from a chemical desktop app to a modern web application was no easy task. One of our initial hurdles was the computational chemical backend – a vital element of Chematica that had little to no API documentation.
During the due diligence time, Kamil, our CTO, took upon himself the task of reverse-engineering and documenting the API. It took him over two weeks of careful study to get to know the code well, and the work accelerated from there.
We then identified the project's core issue: its instability, mainly because it was developed by chemists rather than programmers. Though functional, Chematica wasn’t ready for mass commercial usage. This necessitated us to streamline its backend, which was originally a potpourri of Java, C++, Python, and CoffeeScript.
Our focus wasn't just on technical optimization. The User Experience (UX) required a significant upgrade. Moving away from merely replicating the desktop app’s functionalities, we collaborated closely with the client, striving to craft features that met users' contemporary needs.
Screenshots of how revamped UI/UX influenced the new web app.
Security was paramount. Given the significance of IP protection in the pharmaceutical sphere, we invested heavily in ensuring the code was production-ready, secure, and scalable.
Some of our key security measures included:
Enforcing continuous security baseline compliance,
Asymmetric encryption algorithms,
In the following months after the acquisition, rigorous pen tests and thorough security scans were conducted by an external entity, where Chematica stood tall with no major issues.
"We entered the project at a critical stage in its lifecycle, when the time finally came to turn it from a rough research prototype into a production-ready application that could withstand contact with actual users. It was severely lacking in scalability, UX and good development practices. What really mattered, though, was that it had solid scientific foundations and we could work with domain experts. We could handle the rest."
– Kamil Śliwak, co-founder
We were amid this transformative process, Chematica transitioned ownership from Grzybowski Scientific Inventions Ltd. to MilliporeSigma (Merck). During the due diligence that preceded the purchase, Kamil Śliwak became an unofficial CTO. He was indispensable, offering deep technical insights that proved crucial during the acquisition talks. In fact, Kamil was the go-to person for Merck's technical queries, underlining our active participation in the sales process. While we didn't contribute to the scientific backbone of Chematica, we certainly feel like co-authors of the project. This experience embodies our brand archetype, the Creator, exemplifying our capability to bring an idea to commercial success. This wasn't just a testament to our team's hard work but also a validation of our commitment to excellence. The acquisition marked a significant milestone, symbolizing Chematica's elevation from an academic initiative to a commercial powerhouse.
If you see yourself in this story, let us know; we might have an idea or two on how to help you succeed.
PS. It was not the end of our work on this project.
Transformed academic prototype into an industry-leading tool for automatic retrosynthesis.
From a desktop app to online powerhouse.
Full documentation achieved in 2 weeks via reverse-engineering.
Transitioned & optimized unstructured codebase.
Prioritized modern, intuitive user experience.
Implemented encryption & authentication.
"They do well compared to other vendors. In general, we’re pleased with their work and see them as a high-value provider. They’ve done a good job of hiring talented software developers."