Biotech billionaire mounts digital attack on cancer

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has taken part of his fortune made in the biotech game--via multibillion-dollar sales of his companies Abraxis and APP Pharmaceuticals--and spent it on a high-speed rail of sorts to transport genomic data among researchers and medical care facilities around the U.S. The initial focus of the previously announced Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Advanced Health (CSS Institute) will be supporting cancer research, Gigaom reported.

Soon-Shiong and his wife Michele Chan formed CSS Institute earlier this year. The billionaire's nonprofit has a supercomputer housed in Arizona for genomic data analysis and two data centers in the state. He's also taken financial responsibility of and the chairman role at the National LambdaRail (NLR), the 12,000-mile fiber-optic network that enables high-speed data transfers of 100 gigabits per second among hundreds of researchers, physicians and hospitals in the U.S., Gigaom reported. The CSS Institute's supercomputer and data centers have been linked to the NLR, with genomic sequencing hubs around the country expected to follow.

Sequencing an entire genome has become relatively cheap, costing in the ballpark of $5,000 per genome. Yet there are about 500GB of data in each genome, according to the Gigaom report, and now groups have begun projects that involve sequencing many genomes, and sharing the huge amounts of data generated from those projects among collaborators requires IT infrastructure that is equal to the task. Enter Soon-Shiong's nonprofit and the fiber-optic network he's bankrolling. Suddenly, sharing mountains of data, including those from sequencing and imaging tissue, start to sound manageable.

An important aspect of the CSS Institute's work is to streamline the translation of scientific discoveries into new therapies. As Soon-Shiong adviser Bob Peirce tells Gigaom, it takes an average of 17 years for research discoveries to mature into treatments for patients. For all the advances in genomics over the past decade, the development of new drugs remains a long and tricky process. Cancer treatment has shown signs of speeding up due to genetic findings that help match patients with treatments, and the oncology field is expected to be the initial focus of the CSS Institute.

- check out Gigaom's article
- here's a release from the CSS Institute