IBM deal to help speed medical research

Scoring another win in the life sciences, Big Blue lands a three-year deal with the University of California at San Francisco to link clinical information and research findings.

Scoring another win in the life sciences, IBM has landed a three-year deal with the University of California at San Francisco to link clinical information and research findings.

On Monday, IBM announced the partnership, which will focus initially on Alzheimer's disease and other neurological illnesses. IBM and the health sciences university plan to develop a clinical and genomic information management program, aimed at letting scientists from different disciplines work with physicians to seek the genetic links implicated in their patients' illnesses.

Through data mining techniques, IBM hopes to help UCSF researchers find novel connections between various patient characteristics and diseases, said Adam Crafton, a partner in IBM's business consulting services unit. For example, it may turn out that men of a certain age with certain illnesses tend to suffer from early-onset Alzheimer's disease. In addition, the data analysis may end up debunking some common assumptions, Crafton said. "Even though they appear to be obvious, the data don't bear them out," he said.

Life sciences is seen as a fertile field for information technology spending, as the amount of bioscience data increases rapidly. Besides IBM, other tech giants gunning for those dollars include computer-maker Hewlett-Packard and software giant Oracle. IBM said its agreement with UCSF was a result of a competitive proposal process. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The IBM-UCSF agreement isn't the first attempt to find hidden connections in life sciences data. For example, a research project at Stanford University is using probabilistic techniques to better match symptoms to diseases and to link genes to specific cell phenomena.

One of the goals of the IBM-UCSF collaboration is to develop a Web-based system that is easily accessible to doctors with little information technology training, IBM said. In addition, the technology infrastructure will be designed to protect the security and privacy of patient health information, IBM said.

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