A new initiative between a top medical research organization and a large technology company seeks to integrate genomic data from a range of sources to develop new ways for treating diseases.

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Intel Corp. have announced a five-year, $25 million collaboration, establishing the Intel-Broad Center for Genomic Data Engineering.

The project has large ambitions, with plans to build, optimize and widely share new tools and infrastructure that will enable scientists to be better equipped to integrate and process genomic data. It’s looking to optimize best practices in hardware and software for genome analytics to make it possible to combine and use research data sets that reside on private, public and hybrid clouds.

Genomic analysis at the Broad Institute of MIT.
Genomic analysis at the Broad Institute of MIT.

The collaboration, announced last week, is the latest in a series of initiatives between private medical research organizations and large players in the technology arena, trying to bring significant computing power to efforts that are focusing on genomic medicine.

Over the past 12 years, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard has focused efforts on studying genomics to develop new disease therapies, with the aim of disseminating discoveries openly to scientists worldwide.

For this initiative, Intel is offering data analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities, along with a federated way to share data and findings across the globe, making the data interoperable across different institutions, similar to how the World Wide Web operates, says Key Eron, leader of the health and life science unit.

Also See: Heart organization building big data platform to aid precision medicine

With the technology support from Intel, the collaborative aims to enable researchers worldwide to run more data-intensive studies and generate results more quickly by accessing data faster.

The hope is to make working with genomic data a bit easier. Data sets produced by genomics research doubles every eight months, challenging the capabilities of researchers to acquire, process, store and analyze the information, says Anthony Philippakis, MD, chief data officer at Broad Institute, which is one of the largest genomic sequencing organizations in the world.

The Broad Institute and Intel will work to expand worldwide ability to sequence genomes and lower barriers to access. Because physician offices do not regularly interact with genomic information, another part of the initiative will work to deploy software and hardware to incorporate genomics in physicians’ clinical workflows, according to Philippakis.

“Working with Intel, we plan to build out solutions that can work across different infrastructures to facilitate efficient processing of these growing data sets, and then make these tools openly available for researchers worldwide,” adds Eric Banks, director of the data sciences and data engineering group at the Broad Institute. Our work is a step toward building something analogous to a superhighway to connect disparate databases of genomic information for the advancement of research and precision medicine.”

The five-year effort has three core goals:

  • Overcome the challenge of diverse genomics data sets with a toolkit of best practices and hardware recommendations for genomic workflows for on-premise, public cloud and hybrid cloud uses;
  • Simplify and accelerate execution of genome analytics by optimizing genomics software tools on standard platforms from Intel; and
  • Empower providers, researchers and pharmaceutical firms to collaborate by partnering on new workflow execution models across complex and distributed datasets. This will support secure processing of data across organizations, speeding research, discovery, clinical trials and eventually clinical decision-making.

The announcement is the latest of several collaborative agreements reached between research organizations and technology companies seeking to advance progress in healthcare research.

In October, IBM Watson and Quest Diagnostics announced a partnership intended to take advantage of research into cancer care by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which has a precision oncology knowledge base. Called IBM Watson Genomics, it’s the first widely available effort that offers a delivery mechanism that can bring cognitive computing to community oncologists. And it can serve as a model that could bring cognitive computing to other medical specialties.

Also See: Athenahealth enhances physician decision support with genomics

Additionally, this summer, the American Heart Association expanded its ambitious plan to use big data analytics, data mining and the cloud to enable the use of precision medicine to treat cardiovascular disease. Leading the way for the AHA is the Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine, which is coordinating the national organization’s initiatives.

Toward that end, the Institute is researching open-source components and looking to the cloud to support data sharing—in July, it formed a strategic partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

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