Microsoft, Adaptive Biotechnologies Work on AI-Enabled Immunology

Microsoft and Adaptive Biotechnologies team up on medical research that applies artificial intelligence to find ways to detect cancers and other diseases earlier.

Microsoft, Adaptive Biotechnologies Partnership

Microsoft and Seattle-based immuno-sequencing company Adaptive Biotechnologies announced on Jan. 4 the formation of partnership that will bring artificial intelligence to bear on early detection of cancer and other diseases.

The new initiative combines Adaptive Biotechnologies' innovations in human immune system sequencing with Microsoft's cloud computing and machine learning technologies, with additional expertise provided by the software giant's own researchers. Microsoft is also investing an undisclosed sum in the company.

Together, the companies are working to "decode the human immune system" and develop ways to diagnose specific diseases with a simple blood test. Eventually, they hope to develop a universal diagnostic that can detect a wide range of illnesses.

Adaptive Biotechnologies specializes in sequencing two vital components of the human immune system, T- and B-cell receptors. Focusing on the former, the project's aim is to create a universal a T-cell receptor antigen map, using vast amounts of genomic data that will require AI systems and massive cloud computing resources to decipher.

If successful, the companies may achieve a "true breakthrough," providing the medical community with deeper insights into how a patient's immune system functions and the diseases it is currently fighting or has battled in the past, said Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft AI and Research, in a Jan. 4 announcement.

"This universal map of the immune system will enable earlier and more accurate diagnosis of disease and eventually lead to a better understanding of overall human health," Lee added. "Microsoft and Adaptive expect this universal map to be the key for the research and development of simple blood-based diagnostics that are broadly accessible to people around the world."

Those tests, in turn, may help doctors wage a more effective war on cancer, according to Chad Robins, president, CEO and co-founder of Adaptive Biotechnologies.

"Some conditions like cancer or autoimmune disorders can be difficult to diagnose, but this universal map of the immune system will enable earlier and more accurate diagnosis of disease, potentially helping physicians to connect the dots to understand the relationship between disease states and eventually lead to a better understanding of overall human health," said Robins in a separate statement.

The Adaptive Biotechnologies partnership signifies major progress in adapting Microsoft's AI and cloud computing capabilities to the health care IT market, according to Lee.

He described the move as a "cornerstone" of his company's Healthcare NExT initiative. Launched in early 2017, the technology and partnership program seeks to create a new model for health and biotechnology industry collaborations that helps accelerate the commercialization of AI-enabled health care systems.

Early participants include the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which is using Microsoft's AI to enhance productivity among health care professionals. Other partners include MDLIVE, Project InnerEye, HealthVault Insights and genome informatics data management firms DNAnexus and BC Platforms.

Microsoft and Adaptive Biotechnologies are slated to share more details on their partnership during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco Jan. 8-11.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...