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IBM teams up in life sciences

Big Blue says more than 30 analytical instrument and tool companies are using its technology in products aimed at the life sciences industry.

Big Blue on Monday touted its progress into the red-hot life sciences market, announcing that more than 30 analytical instrument and tools companies are basing products on IBM technology.

IBM said its partners are using IBM middleware, server platforms and services. The partners' products range from microarrays and high-throughput screening devices to chemical analysis instrumentation tools and laboratory information management software. Specific partner companies include analytical instrument systems maker Agilent Technologies, high-tech instrument company Thermo Electron and analytical instrument maker Waters.

Monday's announcement is part of IBM's strategy to team up with a range of companies selling to the life sciences marketplace. Big Blue also has partnerships with Icelandic company Decode Genetics, the lab equipment and software division of Applera, and Documentum, a document management software maker.

IBM is "definitely taking a partnership-type of approach" to the life sciences, said Michael Swenson, senior analyst in the life sciences practice of market research firm IDC. "It seems to be working for them pretty well."

IBM says its life sciences division is its fastest-growing unit. Formed in 2000, the division enjoyed triple-digit growth last year and is on pace for double- to triple-digit growth this year, said company spokeswoman Theo Chisholm.

A market with life
The life sciences arena is one of the few healthy fields in an otherwise barren information technology landscape. IDC expects IT spending in the life sciences market to jump from $12 billion in 2001 to $30 billion in 2006, with annual growth of about 17 percent.

Analysts say the field is fertile because of factors including an explosion of genomic data generated by researchers, shrinking drug pipelines and deep pockets in the pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies also are eager to control the rising cost of drug development. A 2001 study by Lehman Brothers and McKinsey & Co. concluded that the cost to develop a new drug increased from $700 million in 1995 to $800 million in 2001. By 2005, the study said, the cost would jump to $1.3 billion assuming modest improvements in genomics technologies or $1.6 billion assuming no improvements. According to the study, the drug development cost would decrease between 2005 and 2010.

A number of tech companies are eager to supply computer software and gear to the life sciences industry. Oracle sells its database software to pharmaceutical companies and biotechs, and calls life sciences one of its fastest-growing industry sectors. Semiconductor giant Intel launched a life sciences division last year, and is focusing on topics including data management and bioinformatics. Bioinformatics involves using information technology to make complex life sciences data more understandable and useful, such as finding a new drug based on genetic data. The company also is researching chips to replace traditional lab equipment, and chips that serve as sensors to aid in preventive medicine.

IBM announced its life sciences division in August 2000 and said it would invest $100 million in the unit. But Big Blue already has more than doubled that investment, and now has more than 1,000 employees working in life sciences.

Other analytical instrument and tools companies using IBM technology include Beckman Coulter, Bio-Rad Laboratories and Proteome Systems, IBM said Monday.