Microsoft leads formation of bioinformatics group

The BioIT Alliance hopes to accelerate the discovery and development of new drugs and treatments personalized to an individual's health and genetic makeup.

By Tyler Chin — Posted May 22, 2006

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A group of companies led by Microsoft Corp. have announced an alliance that will work to accelerate the growth of bioinformatics, an emerging field whose ultimate goal is to make personalized medicine a reality.

For that to happen, a vast amount of data from disparate sources, including patients' records and genetic information, must be automated, captured, analyzed and shared. Those tasks require a tremendous amount of information technology tools and raw computing processing power.

The BioIT Alliance, announced in April, says it will dedicate itself to developing such technology.

"We know there's been tremendous public investment today in medicine, particularly in computational biology, the human genome and many other things in molecular biology, but the discoveries in that world haven't found their way in any pervasive way into the medical system," said Don Rule, a platform-strategy adviser and the point man for Microsoft on the BioIT Alliance. "The goal [of the alliance] is figure out what we can to do accelerate the process of bringing companies together and enabling them to take advantage of existing knowledge and put it in the hands of doctors and their patients as quickly as possible."

Members of the alliance will develop and proof concept tools based on Microsoft technologies, which they will commercialize if the tests go well, Rule said. The alliance has approximately a dozen founding members drawn from the health care, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, software and hardware industries. Members include Microsoft, Sun Microsystems Inc., the Scripps Research Institute, Affymetrix Inc. and Accelrys Software Inc.

Although the field of bioinformatics is relatively new, it already has aroused concern from privacy advocates who fear that insurance companies and employers could use genetic data, for example, to discriminate against people. "We understand completely [that privacy] is going to be incredibly important and we're going be very concerned about it and making sure we're not introducing the capability to do harm [to patient privacy]," Rule said.

Microsoft isn't the first technology company to enter the bioinformatics field. For example, IBM Corp. in recent years has signed agreements to collaborate with several health care organizations to implement the technology infrastructure, including data warehouse and analytic tools based on its products, to advance development of personalized medicine.

IBM's clinical partners include the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Utah Health Sciences Center.

IBM is not a member of the BioIT Alliance.

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BioIT Alliance (link)

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