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An IT prescription for life sciences

Large health care providers, moving to harness IT for a more data-driven approach to medicine, are likely to spend $30 billion over the next decade in that pursuit, asserts an IBM executive.

Annual IT spending in so-called information-based medicine is likely to climb to roughly $30 billion over the next decade, an IBM executive asserts.

Dr. Joseph Jasinski, manager of worldwide operations for IBM's life sciences unit, said Thursday that health care organizations such as hospitals and academic medical-research centers are rapidly moving to harness IT for a more data-driven approach to medicine.

IBM defines information-based medicine as the use of IT to analyze large amounts of information--such as patient records, genetic data and population data--in order to help physicians make better diagnostic and treatment choices. For example, a doctor could prescribe a specific cancer drug, taking into account a patient's genetic makeup.

"I'm surprised by how fast (information-based medicine) has taken off," Jasinski said.

Jasinski was one of several high-tech company executives speaking Thursday at the "BioSilico 2003" conference at Stanford University.

The life sciences field has become a vital growth arena for high-tech companies, which say their products can help life sciences organizations make sense of proliferating mounds of data and improve the diagnosis and treatment of illness.

"The data explosion is going to give Moore's Law a run for the money," said Guy Tribble, vice president of software technology at Apple Computer. (Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years. More transistors lead to greater performance and capability.)

Tribble noted that Apple's Power Mac G5 computers can be clustered together to effectively created a supercomputer. He also suggested the G5 is a good candidate for the life sciences field, thanks to a large memory that can hold a significant amount of genetic data. The G5, which began shipping earlier this year, uses 64-bit processors that can access up to 8GB of main memory, according to the company.

As expected, Intel and the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center announced at the conference a partnership to explore the use of nanotechnology tools for early disease detection. The joint effort involves examining whether technology previously used to detect microscopic imperfections on silicon chips can also find subtle traces of disease.

That project could add to the kinds of data doctors may someday use in information-based medicine, IBM's Jasinski said. One example of IBM working on information-based medicine is a project with the Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic. It involves using IBM database technology to give Mayo Clinic researchers access to information that can help them identify potential clinical trial participants faster, according to the organizations.