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Microsoft's Life Sciences GPS

Amalga Life Sciences gets up and running with an LS GPS.

By Deb Borfitz

November 10, 2009
| A few short months after naming Merck & Co. a customer and development partner, Microsoft has attracted a sizable following to its life sciences platform intent on helping scientists design better drugs, sponsors better interpret clinical trial results, and physicians better match treatments to patients. Aiding the successful launch of Amalga Life Sciences (see, “Microsoft’s Amalga Life Sciences,” Bio•IT World, May 2009) are a dozen other early adopters, including Fred Hutchinson and Moffitt cancer centers, reports Jim Karkanias, senior director of applied research and technology for Microsoft Health Solutions Group. The first-of-its-kind product acts like a global positioning system, helping scientists and their staff navigate through all forms of data at the conceptual level—be it what a dollar means or what a molecule is doing—using a comfortable and familiar Microsoft Office interface.

Amalga Life Sciences is an extension of the Microsoft Amalga family of health enterprise products introduced in February 2008. The idea is to “add value” to existing clinical and operational information systems, including electronic data capture, electronic medical records, and patient recruitment databases, Karkanias says. “A wealth of data exists in databases and IT systems. But without a way to… access [and] make sense of the information, it adds little to no value to an organization. Amalga Life Sciences is designed to easily show contexts and relationships, so that data becomes knowledge that can actually be used.” The technology also gives organizations the wherewithal to processes to increase productivity, improve decision-making, and reduce errors.

Components of Rosetta Biosoftware, acquired from Merck in June, will be incorporated into the service-oriented, standards-based software over the next two years, says Karkanias. This will give Amalga Life Sciences the ability to interface with the machinery of genomic science and further understanding of how various drugs impact DNA and proteins in the body and, ultimately, direct researchers to “biomarker needles in the haystack.” Thereafter, the software could be used to create what-if scenarios using the identified biomarkers in different population groups.

H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute is using Microsoft’s Amalga Unified Intelligence System as part of its Total Cancer Care Survivorship Initiative, which follows patients post-treatment to reduce recurrence of cancer and quickly respond if it does. In addition, the collaboration between the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Microsoft “will drive the progress and development of an innovative software platform for life science researchers, addressing the challenges faced today in collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and sharing complex data from a wide range of diseases and experiments,” says Karkanias. The collaboration will bring together the world-class domain expertise of the cancer center’s scientists and the power of Microsoft technologies to “integrate, visualize, and generate novel hypotheses from cancer research data.”

Direct-to-Consumer Appeal
Connectivity with HealthVault, Microsoft’s two-year-old personal health application platform for consumers to store and maintain health and fitness information online, gives Amalga Life Sciences several potentially game-changing capabilities, says Karkanias.
A trial-sponsoring company need only write an application specific to HealthVault to initiate a patient recruitment campaign targeting those that meet a study’s inclusion and exclusion criteria—and promote compliance with the protocol once they’re enrolled, says Karkanias. Through TrialX (from Applied Informatics), HealthVault users can already opt to be matched to relevant clinical trials based on their personal health information. But the potency of HealthVault as a recruitment resource will be highly dependent not only on the platform’s popularity, but on consumer reception to its varied connectivity options.

Microsoft sees the potential for HealthVault to effectively reduce the cost of conducting clinical trials, making “new and different trials possible,” says Karkanias. “Companies can have trials with small measurements across large groups of patients since they’ll have a large population from which to draw. That’s a complete paradigm shift.”

It remains to be seen how far Amalga Life Sciences will reach its hand into the actual administration of clinical trials. Microsoft will most likely opt to complement rather than compete against clinical trial management systems, he says. 

This article also appeared in the November-December 2009 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine.
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