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July 01, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 13)

Microsoft Strengthens Its Involvement in Life Sciences

Firm’s Health Solutions Group Extends Reach through Rosetta Biosoftware Purchase

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    Amalga Unified Intelligence allows life scientists to automate the management and analysis of massive, heterogenous research data.

    Microsoft created its health solutions group about four years ago to explore software applications for the life science market. The software giant strengthened its life science position last month by buying Rosetta Biosoftware from Merck & Co. Researchers use Rosetta’s computational software to learn how genes interact with each other, analyze peptides and metabolites, and determine what controls gene expression. Microsoft will offer Rosetta’s software through its Amalga Life Sciences platform starting in January 2010.

    Merck planned to use the Rosetta software to gain an edge over competitors in the development of new drugs by identifying genetic markers to better select patients who likely would respond to certain drugs, rather than suffer side effects. Merck will now become a Microsoft customer.

    Microsoft considered building its own computational biology software platform, however, “to build product streams like Rosetta already had created would take three to five years and twenty people per product stream. That’s prohibitively impractical, and buying made a lot more sense,” says Jim Karkanias, senior director of applied research and technology in the health solutions group.

    The purchase of Rosetta Biosoftware comes with 10 years of experience, skilled personnel, an existing customer base, and partnerships with academic centers, drug companies, and genetic instrument companies.

    Microsoft will incorporate Rosetta’s technology into its Amalga Life Sciences 2009 platform to create new bioinformatic solutions to expedite drug discovery and development. The overall goal of the Amalga product line is to amalgamate data from disparate databases into a unified system. “We hope to reduce the cycle time to bring new drugs to market from 20 years down to two years,” Karkanias says.

    The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was an early test site and adopter of the Amalga Life Sciences platform. “Our researchers face an overwhelming challenge to collect, analyze, interpret, and share complex data from a wide range of diseases and experiments,” says Lee Hartwell, Ph.D., president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The institution will use Amalga Life Sciences 2009 to efficiently interpret rich data.

    Microsoft formally launched Amalga Life Sciences 2009 in April at the Bio-IT “World Conference & Expo”. The system allows life scientists to automate the management and analysis of massive, heterogeneous research data. Organizations can redesign processes to increase productivity, improve decision making, and reduce errors, the firm reports. The software tools acquired from Rosetta will further extend the capabilities of the Amalga Life Sciences 2009 technology.

    One challenge may be convincing biological scientists to purchase the Rosetta-Amalga hybrid product. Some life science researchers still capture data with Excel or homemade software programs. Karkanias predicts that the decision to switch will be value driven.

    Research institutions spend hundreds of millions of dollars analyzing data with old-fashion methods. Excel, for instance, can only analyze data in two dimensions at a time (rows and columns), whereas today’s data must be evaluated in hundreds of dimensions. Amalga Life Sciences 2009 performs tasks that would required 10,000 Excel spreadsheets, Karkanias claims. The transition to the Rosetta-Amalga product will be similar to deciding between a paper map or global positioning system (GPS) for navigating a new frontier. “The GPS may be more expensive, but it gives better results,” says Karkanias.

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