Researchers at Virginia Tech; the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; and the J. Craig Venter Institute will have free access to the Azure cloud platform as part of a two-year agreement between the NSF and Microsoft.
At a meeting of the Pistoia Alliance last week, six vendors unveiled four cloud-based proof-of-concept platforms designed to provide a service for pharma to store and mine proprietary and public gene databases.
The Microsoft development team is asking the scientific community to submit research scenarios that will help the company develop new capabilities for version 2.0 of its MBF toolkit, scheduled for release next summer.
"It might not necessarily be an in vitro diagnostic that's going to hit the market," a Merck researcher said of the company's mass spec-based biomarker assays, "but it can certainly help us make decisions as we move a drug to market."
The technique could be used to diagnose diseases such as mental retardation, where copy number variation is a key characteristic, and as a screening tool to look for cancer biomarkers and assess drug effectiveness, the researchers said.
A Microsoft official said that bioinformatics vendors should not see the software giant's entry in the market as a threat, but an opportunity to focus on their "specialized functionality for the science" and "let Microsoft focus on the infrastructure."