Microsoft Rx anyone?

Jeffrey Bouley
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BANGALORE, India—October 17, 2006—Informatics company Strand Life Sciences announced it will join Microsoft's BioIT Alliance. According to company Chairman and CEO Dr. Vijay Chandru, Strand is eager to participate in a group that he says will play "an important role in the overall improvement of research in personalized medicine and our technologies will help address issues related to data mining, visualization, predictive modeling and related fields."
REDMOND, Wash.—Microsoft is not a name that probably springs to mind when you think of drug discovery tools, but it's a name you're likely to hear a lot more of in the coming months and years if the BioIT Alliance, an effort spearheaded by Microsoft Corp., is any indication.
The BioIT Alliance is intended to unite the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, hardware and software industries to explore new ways to share complex biomedical data and collaborate among multidisciplinary teams and speed up the pace of drug discovery and development. The cross-industry group's founding members, in addition to Microsoft, include such companies as Affymetrix, Accelrys, Amylin, Applied Biosystems, The BioTeam, Digipede Technologies, Discovery Biosciences Corp., Geospiza Inc., HP, InterKnowlogy, Sun Microsystems and VizX Labs.
Although one might predict that Microsoft has its sights set on some new software application, the goal is actually to find ways to help the pharmaceutical and other life sciences industries with comprehensive data integration solutions, better technical collaboration and stronger knowledge management capabilities. That will include the involvement of Microsoft products, but will mean enhancements to existing tools and probably not new applications—at least not from Microsoft specifically.
"The impetus for all of this was that we are often connected very well with companies in terms of their IT departments, but we're looking to also get better connected to research departments," explains Don Rule, platform strategy advisor for Microsoft, a member of its Developer and Platform Evangelism Group, and the lead for the BioIT project. "One of the areas we are focused on is that we see a responsibility to help bring customers together in life sciences and push forward medical advances, particularly in the area of translational medicine."
At first, Rule says, he saw the alliance as something mostly or perhaps even entirely devoted to discovery work, but realized that focusing solely on the preclinical end of the spectrum would be both a logistical and business mistake.
"Over time, it became clear that the effort was not as compelling unless we started to put together an end-to-end story," he says. "We needed to be able to go from the bench to the bedside. Our strongest role in the alliance may be helping to do that by taking complex technology and putting it in end users' hands in a more manageable fashion."
Founding members of the alliance have already begun to collaborate on solutions that target common technology problems faced by life science companies, and two 'proof of concept' projects are already in the works.
The first is the Collaborative Molecular Environment, which will provide a means for data capture, visualization, annotation and archiving using Microsoft Office, Windows Presentation Foundation and SharePoint Technologies.
"The Collaborative Molecular Environment developed 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," says Peter Kuhn, professor of cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute.
The second proof of concept is an effort to better integrate molecular data with clinical data to gain insights about the relationships between genotypes and clinical outcomes. Affymetrix and Applied Biosystems are the key companies involved in that project.
"Through the BioIT Alliance, we are working closely with Microsoft to increase data access across our instrument systems and data analysis software tools using Ecma Open Office.
Traditionally, Applied Biosystems has sent their data out in binary format, requiring users to have some sort of specialized software to recognize the data and display it in a usable format, Rule says. He sees his company's Excel software as being much more accessible and conducive to collaborative efforts.
The BioIT Alliance will also provide independent software vendors with industry knowledge to help them commercialize informatics solutions more quickly with less risk, Microsoft reports.

Jeffrey Bouley

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