IBM to invest $100 million in IT solutions for Life Sciences research

Somers 16 August 2000Just one month after the news that scientists had successfully mapped the human genetic code, IBM has invested an initial $100 million to help deliver solutions to companies processing the wealth of newly found data. The three-year IBM investment is earmarked for the development of information technology (IT) solutions as well as partnerships to enable the breakthrough work being conducted to interpret the complex genetic code.


Understanding how genes and proteins behave can facilitate the diagnosis of diseases and development of new drugs to treat them. IBM has formed a Life Sciences business unit to deliver leading-edge IT solutions for biotechnology, genomic, e-health, pharmaceutical, agri-science and other life sciences industries. The newly founded organisation will bring together the company's strengths in such areas as e-business, supercomputing, data and storage management, data mining and knowledge management, as well as IBM's world-renowned research expertise in computational biology and parallel computing.

Investments in industry partnerships will be a key element of the new unit's mission. In addition, IBM is expanding its team of development, marketing and sales professionals to help its customers and partners deploy highly scalable, high-performance life sciences solutions. "Life sciences is one of the emerging markets at the heart of IBM's growth strategy", stated John M. Thompson, IBM senior vice president and group executive Software. "This investment is the first of a number of steps we will be taking to advance IBM's life sciences initiatives."

In his role as newly appointed IBM Corporation vice chairman, effective as of September 1, Mr. John Thompson will be responsible for integrating and accelerating IBM's efforts to exploit life sciences and other emerging growth areas. IBM estimates that the market for IT solutions for life sciences will skyrocket from $3.5 billion today to more than $9 billion by 2003. Driving demand is the explosive growth in genomic, proteomic and pharmaceutical research. For example, the Human Genome Database is approximately three terabytes of data, or the equivalent of 150 million pages of information. The volume of life sciences data is doubling every six months.

All of this genetic data is worthless without the information technology that can help scientists manage and analyse it to unlock the pathways which will lead to new cures for many of today's diseases, according to Dr. Caroline Kovac, vice president of IBM's new Life Sciences unit. "IBM can help speed this process by enabling more efficient interpretation of data and sharing of knowledge. The potential for change based on innovation in life sciences is bigger than the change caused by the digital circuit."

Among the life sciences initiatives already underway at IBM are:

  • DiscoveryLink - For the first time, researchers using this combination of innovative middleware and integration services can join together information from many sources to solve complex medical research problems.
    DiscoveryLink creates a "virtual database" which permits data to be accessed and extracted from multiple data sources used in research and development projects. This IT solution can dramatically improve product cycle time and lower development costs for pharmaceutical, biotechnology and agri-science companies.
  • Blue Gene - IBM is building a supercomputer 100 times faster than any available today designed to advance understanding of the mechanisms behind protein folding through large-scale biomolecular simulation. In December, IBM committed $100 million to this five-year research project to advance the state-of-the-art in supercomputing for biological applications.
  • Bio-Dictionary - IBM has compiled a protein dictionary containing some 30 million protein "words" designed to accelerate the understanding of protein shapes and functions. Bio-Dictionaries for selected genomes, as well as bio-informatics algorithms for pattern discovery and other relevant applications, are available to scientists and researchers for non-commercial use through a Web site dedicated to life sciences content.

In May, IBM signed a $1.5 billion outsourcing agreement with Aventis S.A to provide support for Aventis' IT infrastructure which underlies ongoing pharmaceutical and agri-science research and development. In addition, IBM technology is helping The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the largest paediatric centre in North America, to accelerate its work in identifying the genetic causes of diseases. Recent work at Johns Hopkins University has revealed important new medical information on the dynamics of the human heart and on the structure of the human brain.

The enabling technologies include an advanced IBM supercomputer and data visualisation software. IBM also has been working with Monsanto for about three years in a wide-ranging technology alliance which includes genomic research collaboration. The Bio-Dictionaries for advanced scientific genome research can be found at the IBM's life sciences content Web site.

Leslie Versweyveld

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