New CIO Leach tackles IT needs at the Broad Institute

Martin Leach thinks outside the box, and has even proposed using elements of video games to boost biotech R&D productivity. In May, after four years at drug giant Merck ($MRK), Leach jumped into the role of chief information officer of the prestigious Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where he's taking on the IT hurdles of one of the world's top genomics research centers.

On the Broad Institute's blog, Leach provided an inside view of the challenges of providing software and technology to speed pioneering discoveries. For one, the groundbreaking nature of the Broad's research often means that there are no off-the-shelf software products to address its needs and, sometimes, that requires his IT team to bring in solutions that have never been used for certain types of life sciences research before, he said.

Another big challenge is serving the information needs for a group of researchers that study molecules on a grand scale. The Broad has recently passed 10 petabytes of storage capacity--the equivalent of about 20,000 typical hard-drives, according to Leach's estimates. And though the group is still working to fill that capacity, it's "on its way," he said. This shows just how much storage capacity is needed when researchers are working with huge amounts of genomic data, for example.

Leach, who plays video games, has spent years thinking about ways to borrow some of the fun ways that the games reward players in an R&D setting.

"Reward and recognition are important to encourage people," Leach said on the Broad's internal blog. "Once I get more established here, I'd love to take some of the lessons learned and see how we incorporate feedback, using technology, in how things are done at Broad."

- read the entire interview with Leach