IBM touts push into biotech with bug-busting gel

Image removed.Top: A mature, healthy MRSA biofilm. Bottom: After the hydrogel is applied, the biofilm is destroyed--courtesy of IBN

IBM has made some headlines about an antimicrobial hydrogel, which could come to the rescue of hospitals and patients grappling with drug-resistant bugs. But Big Blue ($IBM) appears to have a long way to go before the technology becomes a force in biotech, where progress is often counted in decades rather than years.

Armed with some fine in vitro data, Armonk, NY-based IBM and its partner, the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, highlighted yesterday how the hydrogels can bust through diseased biofilms and wipe out superbugs and other infectious agents. The partners envision applications in coating medical devices and even as injected therapeutics.

In a cross-disciplinary twist, IBM says that the company's decades of semiconductor development aided its nano-medical research. Yet the company faces the stiff reality of the long product cycles in the biomedical world versus the semiconductor business, where companies can churn out new and improved products yearly. And IBM is going to publication with data from lab experiments, as the Financial Times noted, without the solid animal evidence typically used as launching pad to human studies.

"I'm frankly a little disappointed in the infectious disease part," the NIH microbiologist Michael Otto told the FT. "The chemistry might be there, but the microbiology is weak."

IBM is four years into a push into biomedicine, according to the company.

In four years, tech companies can create a bona fide IT product with millions of customers. But in that same amount of time a biotech outfit might only do something cool in a lab dish and leave enough unanswered questions to make others in its field, well, disappointed.

- check out IBM's release
- and the Financial Times article