Can Microsoft Jump Start Personalized Medicine?

Nov. 20, 2009
The BioIT Alliance looks to integrate life sciences information where others have failed, says Microsoft’s Les Jordan.

The BioIT Alliance is comprised of more than 200 pharmaceutical, biotech, hardware, and software organizations, whose collective mission is to “explore new ways to share complex biomedical data and collaborate among multi-disciplinary teams to speed the pace of discovery in the life sciences.” Founded by Microsoft, can the Alliance make a difference in the life sciences? We speak with Les Jordan, Director of the BioIT Alliance and Microsoft’s Chief Technology Strategist for US Life Sciences.

PhM: The Alliance has larger goals of speeding time to market and encouraging personalized medicine, but what’s in it for the members?
L.J.: The Alliance provides member companies with a mechanism by which they can collaborate, ultimately reducing costs, streamlining research and marketing their products more effectively. By bringing these companies together, we can create better ways for the sharing of complex biomedical data within and across organizations. This is a crucial step toward helping drug discovery organizations, which today rely mostly on paper, in exchanging and sharing data electronically to speed the discovery of new drugs.

PhM: What’s in it for Microsoft?

L.J.: From Microsoft’s perspective, driving integration between technologies, developing standards for the integration of these technologies, and fostering collaboration among the industry is truly key to solving some of the most pressing challenges that stand in the way of personalized medicine. We believe that the BioIT Alliance serves as a mechanism by which industry leaders can come together to develop the innovative solutions needed and to drive change. 

PhM: What defines the Alliance members to date? What kind of organizations are collaborating, and to what degree?

L.J.: The BioIT Alliance consists of nearly 200 health and life sciences companies involved in healthcare IT, genomics, high-performance computing, laboratory equipment, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, as well as ELNs and LIMS vendors.

As of today, Alliance members are primarily collaborating on integrations between their own technologies and companies, and we would like to use these loose collaborations to jump start the development of standards in these areas.

PhM: How is the Alliance overcoming proprietary concerns that participants might have in regards to sharing information and practices?

L.J.: This is an issue inherent in all standards development groups or organizations, and there are several ways the Alliance deals with these concerns. The first is to instate structure and formality in the organization and to clearly identify the standards we want to address, which is exactly what we’re working to achieve with the creation of a board of directors.

Additionally, Alliance members are free to only share information about their company that they are comfortable discussing. It is the goal of the BioIT Alliance to push forward standards, and to do so we need companies to share information. However, our goal is to develop a standard way of talking between proprietary platforms, not to steal or create proprietary information.

PhM: What initial work is taking place? Are companies just getting their feet wet, or is substantial collaboration already taking place?

L.J.: We are really just getting our feet wet. Most of our member companies are in the process of collaborating between themselves, and we hope to take these collaborations and formalize them with the global making of standards in the field.

PhM: How much collaboration will there be between the BioIT Alliance and other organizations, such as standards-setting bodies, regulatory bodies, industry associations such as PhRMA and BIO, etc?

L.J.: The Alliance is doing significant collaboration with other organizations, and in fact, the new board of directors includes representation from HL7, CDISC, and the Pistoia Alliance. The goal of the Alliance isn’t to duplicate efforts; it’s to fill the gap where other standards organizations aren’t focusing. We want to use existing collaborations as a way to jump start standards, instead of creating new ones from scratch.