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Hitachi s Bioinformatics Group Makes the Move from Tools to Solutions

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Myriad Proteomics isn’t the only player in the joint Myriad Genetics/Hitachi/Oracle initiative that has changed course since the proteome-mapping project was announced two years ago. Hitachi’s own bioinformatics effort has also evolved away from its original goals, according to Megumu Kondo, VP of business development for Hitachi’s Life Science Group.

“Three years after the inception of the Life Science Group, we have changed gear,” Kondo told BioInform via e-mail. Rather than “providing individual bioinformatics tools,” the company’s efforts are now focused in two areas: “integrated solutions” for pharmaceutical companies and the organization of large national research projects in Japan, he said.

Bioinformatics activities at Hitachi are sprawled across several of the company’s diverse business units, but are concentrated in the Life Science Group, Kondo said. The group numbers around 100 employees, and around one-third of them are engaged in bioinformatics. Hitachi would not provide any information on its current or projected bioinformatics revenues, but Kondo noted that it’s “perceived as a fast-growth field” within the company.

The group currently boasts “most of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in Japan” among its customers, and Kondo said that about half of these deals involve some bioinformatics component.

On the public project front, the company is currently engaged in a number of efforts, including Japan’s Toxicogenomics Project — a five-year initiative launched in 2002 by the National Institute of Health Sciences and 17 Japanese pharmaceutical companies that aims to identify the effects of drugs on gene expression, build a database of drugs with undesirable effects, and develop a pharmaceutical safety prediction system. Hitachi is the main database and analysis contractor for the project, Kondo said, and released the first version of the database in March.

Hitachi will play a similar role in Japan’s Protein Function Analysis project, which is sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry. In addition, the company is developing pharmacogenomics software for a project sponsored by the Japan Biological Informatics Consortium, a non-profit group that supports development of bioinformatics resources in the country. Other tools in development include proteomics software, comparative genomics software, and data-mining software — all to be used within the context of broad solutions-based collaborations, Kondo noted.

Most recently, the company released patent searching software called PatentRetriever, which Kondo said enables users to search for patents using natural language “rather than rigorous query language.” The natural language processing system behind the software is also able to extract biologically meaningful information from the scientific literature, he said.

— BT

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