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HP to Create Health and Life Sciences Group To Take 'Holistic' Approach to Biomedical IT

Hewlett-Packard is reorganizing its life science activities with the aim of creating a formal health and life sciences group at the beginning of 2007, a company official told BioInform.
“Up until now, we’ve had different groups within the company working informally together looking at life sciences,” said Lionel Binns, manager of HP’s life science program office. When the new year kicks off, he said, “there will be a new grouping called Health and Life Sciences that looks at the whole of the value chain for life sciences and health.”
This group will address the complete biomedical spectrum, Binns said, from academic and government research to pharmaceutical R&D and clinical trials, to hospital systems and patient care. “We see the whole thing as a continuum now, and not a series of piece parts,” he said.
Binns cited a number of recent market developments as drivers for the new group. On the basic research side — where HP’s life science group has built a large customer base for its high-performance computing systems — Binns said that systems biology and translational research are causing labs to bring in multiple instrumentation platforms, which generate large amounts of disparate data.
Large research labs currently “tend to be looking very broad spectrum at ‘How do we do this from a holistic point of view?’ rather than ‘Let’s sequence this’ or ’Let’s find out about that particular protein,’” he said.
In addition, he noted, “There’s also a real interest in combining the medicine with the science and the science with the medicine. … And it’s clear now that you can’t do the science or the medicine without a strong IT infrastructure behind you.”
Binns declined to provide specifics on the nascent group’s plans, but said that HP is already working with one undisclosed company to design new hospitals that are fully integrated with research centers and facilities for third-party collaborators such as pharmaceutical or biotech firms.
HP is also in discussions with several countries about building an IT infrastructure that can eventually enable them to maintain electronic patient records nationwide, Binns said.
HP lags a bit behind its big IT peers in formally merging its life science and healthcare activities into a single business group. IBM, Sun, and even Microsoft have operated combined healthcare/life science business units for several years now.
But HP is no stranger to translational medicine. In 2003, the company began building the IT infrastructure to support the Harvard Medical School-Partners Healthcare Center for Genetics and Genomics, which is integrating clinical and genomic data for around 2 million patients in the Partners system [BioInform 10-06-03].
Binns cited the Harvard-Partners project as an example of where the entire field of biomedicine is headed, and said that HP has worked through a number of challenges on that project that should serve it well in the future.

The group will address the complete biomedical spectrum, from academic and government research to pharmaceutical R&D and clinical trials, to hospital systems and patient care.

The changing marketplace hasn’t come without a few rough spots, however. Acknowledging that the Institute for Genomics Research’s recent decision to purchase a Sun system to replace its outdated HP Alpha servers [BioInform 09-15-06] was a “missed opportunity” for HP, Binns noted that “the technology landscape has changed, and changed big time,” since the heyday of the Alphas.
“Now we’re living in a world in science, particularly where Linux is the operating system of choice, and the x86 or the 64-bit processors from Intel and AMD are the processors of choice for just about every scientist out there. And the way they’re put together is different as well,” he said.
Binns noted that HP has embraced the shift toward commodity computing. “We offer every one of the processors that the customers are likely to choose,” he said. “So whether you want AMD-based systems, you want Intel 32-bit systems or Intel 64-bit systems, or extended 32-bit systems, you can buy clusters from us that we put together based on any or all of those.”

However, like its competitors, HP will also have to differentiate itself in a marketplace full of commodity components. Binns said that the company has “a long history of building very, very good systems around good processors … and that knowledge hasn’t gone away.”

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