Microsoft’s Life Sciences Game Plan: Use IT to Usher in the World of Predictive, Personalized Medicine

11/13/08Follow @xconomy

Nobody ever accused Bruce Montgomery of being a mealy-mouthed, politically-correct businessman. On Microsoft’s own turf, he offered some free advice last night about what to do with an extremely messed-up healthcare IT industry.

“If Microsoft really wants to own the world, create a standardized electronic medical records system and give it away for free the first five years. Then start charging,” said Montgomery, a senior vice president at Gilead Sciences, the world’s largest maker of AIDS medicines, in an event hosted by the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association last night at the Microsoft campus in Redmond.

The problem is that every hospital is using different programs that don’t talk well to each other. Some of these, including one called SAS that’s been favored by the FDA (and universally loathed by pharma companies, from what I gather), deserve to be put out of their misery, Montgomery said. “Put SAS out of business,” Montgomery said. Get some “code monkeys” to work on a modern user interface, he added, and, “You could put them out of business in a week.”

This naturally generated a few laughs, and probably a few nervous ones, at the software company with a troubled history of anti-competitive behavior. Microsoft didn’t make any bellicose statements about world domination last night, but the company clearly has its sights on a big opportunity to make hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and drug regulators drop their old habits of using paper records and clunky old proprietary programs, in favor of something easier to use and more efficient that captures a patient’s medical records in the doctor’s office, or in clinical trials of experimental drugs.

Zachary Hector, Microsoft’s worldwide pharma industry solutions manager, laid out the broad vision with a slick TV commercial at the beginning. It depicted a young woman who’s pre-diabetic, going for a run, carrying around a PDA-type device that monitored her blood sugar in real-time. The information would be relayed to her doctor, and automatically channeled into a database along with records from other patients in a clinical trial. Later, while going about her everyday chores, the woman would carry a credit card with a fingerprint scanner, which she could stick into an ATM like device to order a diabetes medication.

“Patients are taking more control over their health because of the Internet,” Hector said.

Patients want this kind of predictive information, he said. Market research shows patients care about wellness, prevention, fitness, early detection, disease avoidance, and preventive medicine, Hector says. The age of one-size-fits-all blockbuster drugs like Pfizer’s atorvastatin (Lipitor), which generated more than $12 billion in sales last year, is coming to a close as its patent protection will be dead in 2011. In a world where entire human genomes can be sequenced for as little as $5,000 next spring, a deluge of information is coming about tiny variations in the 6-billion letter string of DNA. Enormous research is being done on how those variations might affect the way certain individuals respond to certain drugs. … Next Page »

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