Microsoft Delves into Biomarkers

Through its industry group BioIT Alliance, Microsoft is working to better illuminate and manage the relationship between genetic and clinical research data.

The cross-industry group Microsoft formed last spring to better integrate technology into the process of drug development has announced its second research venture—a project intended to simplify the process for identifying and validating genomic biomarkers, which often indicate the likelihood of disease or drug efficacy.

The BioIT Alliances first project, a "collaborative molecular environment" in which researchers can share data visualization and annotation tools, is well under way with The Scripps Research Institute.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about the BioIT Alliance.

Now, the alliance has announced its second research venture at Microsofts Biotechnology Executive Forum in Cambridge, Mass.

"One of the most important fields of research today is in gaining an understanding of the relationship between genetic traits and clinical outcomes," said Dr. Michael Hanley, vice president of discovery research at Amylin Pharmaceuticals.

"The research and pharmaceutical community is hindered by the lack of integration among the software tools that are used to gain this insight," he said.

Health IT alliance members Agilent Technologies, Applied Biosystems and Illumina are planning to work with Microsoft and other software developers to develop better solutions for cataloging genomic data and linking it to patient outcomes.

The BioIT Alliance plans to develop a system that will make it easier to solve this problem of tracking genetic data and linking it to other clinical information such as protein expression, imaging results and patient outcomes.

"How do you take that data and make it comparable?" asked Don Rule, program manager in the strategic and emerging business group at Microsoft. "New data comes along every day, and it is evolving. How can we describe the junctions between them? We need to have a consistent interface."

Although Microsoft did not announce a specific data set under examination for the project, it did allude to a similar type of data set being gathered at the UK Biobank. The alliance hopes to be exchanging data using a newly developed system by next year.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about the UK Biobanks health database project.

The alliance has already found at least one company interested in commercializing the results of its first project on a collaborative molecular environment. Later this year, Informatics and potentially other independent software vendors will begin offering an application based on the software development completed through this effort.

"Theres a huge volume of data in many bioscience organizations that is doubling every 12 months," noted Rule. "Uncovering the relationships between these data sources can require extremely high-performance computing systems. Also, since these researchers and clinicians typically arent IT experts, they need familiar, easy-to-use tools for pulling insights from the data.

"These are areas where we believe Microsoft can add significant value, both with our existing products as well as by providing a technology platform that enables other companies to build better tools," he said.

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