Microsoft Tackles Bioinformatics

The software giant creates a working group to enhance the ability to use and share biomedical data.

Microsoft on April 4 announced the formation of the BioIT Alliance, a cross-industry group created to enhance the ability to use and share biomedical data, at the Life Sciences Conference and Expo in Boston.

The working group will take on a series of "proof-of-concept" projects to understand how Microsofts platforms can enhance the integration of the life sciences and IT.

"Advances in our understanding of the human genome promise to revolutionize medicine and open the door to therapies that are tailored to individuals," said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft, in a statement.

"By bringing together people from innovative life sciences organizations that span the biomedical industry, the BioIT Alliance will play an important role in the development of solutions that transform todays data into knowledge and improve the quality of millions of lives," Gates said.

Life sciences companies have unique technical challenges that often stymie existing pre-packaged and homegrown software solutions, such as the need for more comprehensive data integration solutions, better technical collaboration and stronger knowledge management capabilities.

For example, at least 15 percent of life sciences research is a duplicate of existing studies largely because all of the most appropriate references cant be found. This is one of the issues the alliance is working to address, according to Microsoft platform strategy advisor Don Rule. "We have just one customer who estimates spending $350 million a year duplicating research that already exists."

The intent of the BioIT Alliance is to bring together science and technology leaders to consider innovative ways to address these challenges and use technology to reduce costs and streamline research. Founding members of the alliance include Accelrys Software, Affymetrix, Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Applied Biosystems and The Scripps Research Institute, among more than a dozen other life sciences and IT companies.

The alliance also announced its first project at the The Scripps Research Institute, which has been underway for the last few months: The Collaborative Molecular Environment is a data management solution designed to help make life sciences research more efficient.

The aim of this project is to provide a means for data capture, visualization, annotation and archiving using Microsoft Office, Windows Presentation Foundation and SharePoint Technologies. Microsoft is partnering with alliance member company InterKnowlogy on the project, which is being tested by several other alliance members.

Peter Kuhn, professor of cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute, characterizes the Collaborative Molecular Environment as "a response to the critical need for productivity tools at the laboratory bench that connect experimental data, support decision-making on the spot, and communicate the data in context to other members of our research groups and our collaborators."

Bioinformatics is a market with a lot of research money at stake, but it has relatively few potential customers. Rule estimates there are fewer than 50,000 bioinformatics users. The challenge for Microsoft, he said, is less in conquering this market and more in the ability to execute in such a difficult field.

"This is the Broadway of information problems," said Rule. "If you can solve this, you can do anything."


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