IBM recently unveiled a new initiative to recruit “hundreds” of life science business partners over the next two years. Companies who distribute or sell IBM products for the life sciences market under the incentive program would receive sales, technical, educational, and marketing support from IBM, the company said.
“We have earmarked a significant portion of our investment in life sciences for business partners that make the largest commitments to IBM,” said Michael Svinte, vice president of worldwide marketing and business development for IBM life sciences.
IBM has set aside a total of $200 million so far for investments in biotech venture capital funds and bioinformatics companies. Jeff Augen, director of business strategy for life science solutions, said the company would be “ramping up” its VC investment in the next year. Augen said that Big Blue’s investment strategy isn’t driven by return on its investment, but rather acts as “a headlight into new technology.”
Comparing the company’s investment activities with its ongoing Blue Gene petaflop-scale protein-folding project, Augen said, “We’re working on Blue Gene to learn about supercomputing architecture to enhance our products. In a similar way, our venture capital activity is an experiment in learning about the life sciences industry.”
Since launching its life sciences initiative a year and a half ago, IBM has refined its approach toward the market on the technological side as well as the business side. In addition to its expanded partnership program, the company’s architecture team has launched an initiative it calls “the framework for life sciences.”
Srini Chari, senior manager for solution architecture and strategy in the life sciences solutions group at IBM, described the framework as a modular set of components that the company has been able to identify as “key pieces” of the life sciences IT infrastructure. The framework is built upon a similar structure IBM developed for its e-business group around five years ago, Chari said, as dotcom businesses began demanding a flexible framework that would work across all operating systems and offer security and scalability.
The life sciences framework is based on open standards drawn from the web services world of e-commerce, but has been modified slightly for the life sciences. One new component is the company’s DiscoveryLink integration middleware. Chari said that the system also includes support for domain-specific XML vocabularies such as MAGE-ML, AGAVE, BSML, and others.
Offered through an engagement model rather than a shrink-wrapped product, Chari said the framework provides a good combination of “commodity and variability” for IBM’s customers. According to Chari, in any domain, “70 percent of IT requirements are roughly the same, while 30 percent are unique.”
IBM is just rolling out the framework now and “several customers” are using it, Chari said.
Chari noted that the company is now eying solution development for the automation of web-based clinical trials, but declined to disclose further details about the project.