Microsoft on Monday announced that it would be undertaking a strategic partnership with the Alphabet company Verily and with MIT and Harvard’s Broad Institute to accelerate new innovations in biomedicine through the Terra platform.
Terra is an open-source platform, historically run on Google’s cloud infrastructure, that researchers can use to analyze data in scientific research projects – including “test-driving” Broad’s Genome Analysis Toolkit (GATK) sequencing software.
The new collaboration aims to use Microsoft Azure cloud, AI and data technologies to expand on Terra’s platform, as well as increasing the platform’s accessibility to Microsoft’s more than 168,000 health and life science organizational partners.
“As an interoperable, open-source system, Terra is designed to work across many different types of biomedical information – moving aside barriers to storage, permissions and computing to enable collaboration and generate insights,” said Eric S. Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, in a statement.
“We are thrilled that Microsoft has joined the Terra community and, through this collaboration, we will reduce many more barriers to advancing science and medicine,” Lander added.
WHY IT MATTERS
Biomedical information is being generated and digitized at a historic rate from electronic health records, medical imaging, genomics and other sources.
However, researchers who want to make use of those data sets often face silos and fragmented systems, among other obstacles. The Microsoft-Verily-Broad partnership intends to address those obstacles by building on Terra’s existing open-source foundation and improving the collaboration potential of scientists, researchers and clinicians, say the groups.
According to the organizations, the collaboration will also:
- Enable secure and authenticated access to distributed data stores via collaborative workspaces
- Allow access to a rapidly growing portfolio of open and proprietary standards-based tools, best practices workflows and APIs
- Enable federated data analysis to build novel analytical and predictive models
- Create a seamless and secure flow to speed the delivery of data and insights between research and clinical domains
“This partnership combines multimodal data, secure analytics and scalable cloud computing to improve insight and evidence generation, allowing us to ultimately impact more patients’ lives,” said Stephen Gillett, chief operating officer at Verily, in a statement.
THE LARGER TREND
This isn’t the first time the Broad Institute has partnered with major tech players with the aim of pushing forward biomedical research.
In 2016, it teamed up with Amazon Web Services, Cloudera, Google, IBM, Intel and Microsoft to provide its Genome Analysis Toolkit as a cloud-based service.
“By providing a cloud-hosted solution, we can greatly expand access and facilitate usage of these genome analysis tools,” Eric Banks, now the senior director of the data sciences platform, said in a statement at the time.
The following year, Broad released the newest version of the toolkit under an open source software license.
ON THE RECORD
“Through this partnership, we will apply the power of Microsoft Azure and its enterprise-grade capabilities in security and privacy, along with cutting-edge data and AI solutions like Azure Synapse Analytics, Azure Machine Learning and Azure Cognitive Services, to deliver on the vision of the Terra platform at a new level of scale,” said Dr. Gregory Moore, corporate vice president of Microsoft Health Next, in a statement.