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Home / Focus / Health Care May 2011 / High-tech health care hotspot: The men behind Phoenix supercomputer say it will bring a new era of medicine

High-tech health care hotspot: The men behind Phoenix supercomputer say it will bring a new era of medicine

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As Phoenix awaits the arrival of the world’s fastest supercomputer dedicated to health information, the time gap in translating new discoveries in medicine into new treatments continues to grow.

“Science is leaping ahead, making the gap between new discoveries and new treatments even greater,” says Bob Peirce, an adviser and spokesman for Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. “Now the typical translation period in the United States and in the UK is about 17 years.”

Soon-Shiong, a surgeon who founded biotechnology company Abraxis BioScience, is bringing the nonprofit Institute for Advanced Health — which will house the supercomputer — to Phoenix.

The supercomputer, which will be used to store vast amounts of individualized health care information and provide it to doctors on demand, is part of Soon-Shiong’s overall goal of enabling doctors to make health care decisions based on a patient’s specific medical information.

“We are building a capacity for massive amounts of data, which we believe is absolutely necessary to bring about the era of personalized medicine,” Peirce says.

The center’s initial focus will be cancer treatment. “We want to achieve a much greater level of precision in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer…and other ailments will obviously follow,” Peirce says.

According to Peirce, the supercomputer will also focus on connecting domains of the health care industry that Soon-Shiong says are unconnected: science and research; health care delivery, and the payer.

Once the supercomputer is up and running, it will be capable of receiving information from anywhere. Medical facilities will be encouraged to contribute electronic medical records, including copies of MRIs and X-rays.

Although some may envision the supercomputer as one large box, the machine will be a network of several computers with thousands of processing units that are hooked together to harness their collective computing power to sift through massive amounts of information.

The computer will solve extremely complex statistical problems that would either overwhelm a desktop computer or take months or years to complete, by distributing the computation requirements across a network of computing nodes to arrive at an end product in significantly less time.

Mayor Phil Gordon announced the arrival of the supercomputer during his State of the City speech March 29. “This game-changer will redefine how the nation and world will see Phoenix,” Gordon said during the speech. “Its timeline will begin shortly, in just months.”

Peirce hopes the institute’s investment in Phoenix — including $25 million so far in just hardware for the supercomputer — will attract more players in the high-tech health care industry.

“It’s a significant investment in its own right, but the greater significance is the ripple effect that it will have because it will draw analysts and health care practitioners of all kinds to Phoenix, and Phoenix will become a real center of excellence for health care information diagnosis,” Peirce says.

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