IBM and public health groups form global pandemic initiative

Armonk 15 May 2006IBM and over twenty major worldwide public health institutions, including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have launched the Global Pandemic Initiative, a collaborative effort to help stem the spread of infectious diseases. With growing concerns over potential outbreaks of new strains of disease, and their ability to spread more easily because of modern transportation, IBM scientists have formed a steering committee with worldwide health organisations and universities to guide efforts to address the issue. Together, they will explore the use of advanced analytical and computer technology as part of a global preparedness programme for responding to potential infectious disease outbreaks around the world.

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IBM will bring to bear several of its key technologies and is establishing health care "Innovation Centers" at the company's worldwide Research laboratories to work with the global health care community in this collaborative effort. "The threat of a pandemic is a definitively global phenomenon", stated Samuel J. Palmisano, IBM's chairman and chief executive officer. "Our response must be similarly global, and must rely - as with so many other major issues we face today - on open, collaborative innovation. IBM is proud to join with our partners in this effort, grounded in our core value of innovation that matters."

Central to the effort will be the use of advanced software technologies, elements of which IBM intends to contribute to the open-source community, that are designed to help share information on disease outbreaks electronically and use it to predict how diseases will spread.

Among the technologies that will be used is a software framework IBM developed to allow electronic health information to be more easily shared and mined for trends, such as the outbreak of disease. Called the Interoperable Healthcare Information Infrastructure (IHII), the technology is designed to improve communication and collaboration among medical professionals and researchers by helping them collect and share health data. IBM will expand the role of IHII to include public health issues, responding to global calls for pandemic preparedness by facilitating the sharing of clinical data among medical facilities, laboratories and public health agencies.

IBM also plans to build a community of users around its epidemiological modelling framework, called Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeller (STEM), which can tap the information collected from IHII, along with additional information such as roadmaps, airport locations, travel patterns, and bird migration routes around the world. It will allow users to rapidly develop models for how a disease is likely to geographically spread over time. These models can help public health experts and governmental planners develop more effective preparedness plans.

Ultimately, those plans could include development and distribution of more effective and timely vaccines as IBM taps into knowledge gained through a planned collaborative initiative known as "Project Checkmate", in which IBM and the Scripps Research Institute propose to conduct advanced biological research on influenza viruses. The collaboration is designed to predict the way viruses will mutate over time using advanced predictive techniques running on high performance computing systems, such as IBM's BlueGene supercomputer, allowing effective vaccines to be developed by drug-makers, drawing on the immunology and chemistry expertise at Scripps.

IBM scientists at the company's Research Labs in China, India, Israel, Japan, Switzerland and the United States will serve as focal points for the collaboration. Among the members of the Pandemic Initiative steering committee are the United States Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the Scripps Research Institute, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center - Center for Biosecurity. More information on "Project Checkmate" initiated by IBM and the Scripps Research Institute can be found in the VMW March 2006 article IBM and Scripps Research Institute to collaborate on pandemic research.


Leslie Versweyveld

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