Interview: Life science 'the next big thing, says IBM's Kovac

By Staff Writers
Thursday, 21 March, 2002

IDG spoke with Dr Caroline Kovac, general manager of IBM Life Sciences Solutions, about her company's involvement in the life sciences.

What is the history of your organisation's involvement in life sciences?

Kovac: IBM saw the business opportunity and formed its life sciences business unit in 2000. The objective of the business unit is to serve as a catalyst, bringing together IBM resources - from research, services and e-business expertise to data and storage management and high-performance computing - to speed the delivery of new solutions for the life sciences market, often with business partners.

IBM has been involved in life sciences, from research and technology perspectives, for more than 10 years. For example, we announced the Blue Gene project at the end of 1999. This is a grand challenge to build the fastest and most parallel computer system the world has ever seen, for large-scale simulations such as protein folding. We formed a Computational Biology Centre in our Research organisation some years ago, and this group has been working on search programs, pattern algorithms, and other research projects in life sciences.

What is your vision for the development of the life sciences market?

Kovac: Our chairman, Lou Gerstner, likes to ask, "What's the next big thing?" I became convinced many years ago that the Next Big Thing was the whole area of life sciences. In the last two years, the pace of development has accelerated - in proteomics, in the application of genomics to the development of medicine. The life sciences revolution is going to build out on the last revolution, the one in computer science. You're not going to be able to do biology without high-performance computing, without the massive amounts of data from discovery-based research. Personally, I feel like I'm sitting at the conjunction of two worlds that are the most transforming technologies of the entire millennium.

What products and services does your company provide to the life sciences market?

Among IBM offerings are high-performance computing, data management, and data integration software; high-performance storage management systems; global consulting and strategic outsourcing and implementation services; knowledge management and collaborative technologies; and e-business solutions.

What new products and services do you have in development?

Kovac: Our development efforts are focused on data and applications integration solutions that will make scientific collaboration and R&D more efficient; high-performance information infrastructure solutions to help scientists access and analyse the growing sources of data; and simulation technologies for modelling complex biological/chemical phenomena to discover and design better drugs. We are also enabling collaboration with geographically distributed communities of life scientists using grid computing. And we are developing new services, such as hosting clinical trials, to expand our global consulting and strategic outsourcing and implementation services for the life sciences marketplace.

Which life science companies or organisations have you partnered with or invested in, and why?

Kovac: IBM looks to partners who have complementary technologies and deep scientific knowledge and expertise in biology to help bring solutions to the market. In 2001, we announced a number of partnerships and alliances, including those with LION Bioscience, Proteome Systems, Physiome Sciences, Spotfire, LabBook, DevGen, PhaseForward and MDS Proteomics.

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