[Fwd: [>Htech] Biotech and IT Link Up as Technologies Converge]
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Just trying to beat Eugene (or Yewgene, as we say down these parts
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Date: Sun, 2 Dec 2001 22:42:24 -0500
Subject: [>Htech] Biotech and IT Link Up as Technologies Converge
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Biotech and IT Link Up as Technologies Converge
Updated: Sun, Dec 02 6:52 PM EST
By Lucas van Grinsven and Ben Hirschler
LONDON (Reuters) - Today's battle against disease is being fought inside
supercomputers as much as in laboratories.
The convergence of biotechnology and computing at the cutting edge of
biology has already bred dozens of new alliances and could pave the way for
mergers between previously distinct industries.
The ideal company of the future may be a combination of big pharma, a
computing giant and a consumer goods player bringing marketing muscle,
according to Dirk Heyman, Head of Life Sciences at Sun Microsystems.
The door has opened to hybrid businesses following last year's mapping of
the human genome, which turned biology from a business of peering at tissue
samples through microscopes into an information science.
Sequencing the 3.1 billion repeats of the four chemical building blocks that
make up DNA in humans has unleashed a tsunami of data across the scientific
Germany's Lion Bioscience AG and International Business Machines Corp were
the latest to join forces last month.
Steve McGarry, a biotech analyst at Goldman Sachs in London, predicts a
further wave of tie-ups between bio- and high-tech, some of which will push
the envelope in terms of business models.
One possibility is that information technology (IT) companies, aware that
biotech cannot function without their help, might end up taking a royalty of
drugs their technology has helped develop. As researchers probe beyond the
35,000 or so genes in our bodies to unravel the role of myriad proteins in
disease, the complexity of data sets is being multiplied many times over.
NEW INDUSTRIAL UNIONS
George Poste, a former chief scientist at SmithKline Beecham who now heads
Health Technology Networks, a consulting group specializing in the impact of
genetics and computing on pharmaceutical research, believes convergence is
"The union of biology and computing becomes the logical framework in which
to tackle this...I think we will see quite new industrial unions created,"
"As biology and medicine migrate to increasingly information-based
disciplines, we will have new players entering the arena, including
computing and telecommunications companies."
Alliances between biotech and information technology (IT) companies are
already flowing thick and fast.
According to a recent report by Goldman Sachs, U.S. tech giants
International Business Machines Corp, Sun Microsystems Inc, Compaq Computer
Corp and Motorola Inc have each clinched at least a dozen collaborations
with biotech companies and research institutes.
In total, there are more than 140 such alliances, covering a range of
technologies including DNA-sensitive gene chips, software to integrate
biochemical libraries and "in silico" research, involving modeling drug
effects in computers.
A prime focus in many cases is the fast-growing field of proteomics -- the
interaction of genes, proteins and disease -- which requires computing power
measured in teraflops, or trillions of operations per second.
Proteomic alliances include U.S. firm Myriad Genetics Inc.'s link with
Hitachi Ltd. and Oracle Corp; IBM's deal with MDS Inc. of Canada; and
Britain's Oxford GlycoSciences Plc's joint venture with telecoms equipment
group Marconi Plc.
IBM, the world's largest computing company, believes the information
technology market from life sciences will be worth $30 billion in annual
sales by 2004.
Drug discovery companies will need larger computers than industries which
have traditionally relied on supercomputers, such as physicists and
scientists, said Joe Jasinski, manager of IBM's Computational Biology
This is why IBM's next supercomputer "Blue Gene," which is 1,000 times more
powerful than the one that beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997,
is being designed for the life sciences industry.
Its task is deceptively simply -- calculating the way a protein folds. But
the permutations are so huge that record computing power is needed to crack
the problem, which holds the key in determining how proteins interact with
"Big Blue" and its rivals such as Compaq and Sun are positioning themselves
along the lab-to-drug value chain as the pharmaceutical industry prepares to
tap into the thousands of new targets created by the modern genetic
Today's medicine chest is aimed at less than 500 biological targets in the
body but new understanding of our genes may mean drug companies have
5,000-10,000 targets in a few years.
Goldman's McGarry believes size will matter in this new world and it may
make sense for big IT companies to acquire smaller biotech players with
niche pharma expertise.
A hot area for IT companies is the bioinformatics space -- firms which
specialize in developing software tools and technology platforms
specifically for the drug industry. IBM's tie-up with Lion Bioscience is
designed to offer AG just these biocomputing tools to drugmakers.
Another rich area for cooperation is gene chips or microarrays, a business
of growing interest to semiconductor manufacturers who may be able to use
excess capacity available in the microprocessor industry to feed a growing
market for the diagnostic devices.
James J. Hughes Ph.D.
Producer, Changesurfer Radio
Journal of Evolution and Technology
71 Vernon St.
Public Policy Studies, Trinity College
Hartford CT 06106
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