For immediate release:
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
12:01 a.m. EDT


Christopher Fleming

Information-Based Medicine Is Coming; IBM IT Exec Outlines Corporate Role In Bridging Gap Between Research and Practice

Bethesda, MD -- The health care system is moving from a one-size-fits-all present to a more individualized future, and IBM sees a role for business to provide the information technology infrastructure for what some call “personalized” medicine and what the company calls “information-based” medicine.

So says Michael Svinte, vice president, IBM Information Based Medicine, in an interview published today on the Health Affairs Web site. You can read the interview at Svinte heads the company’s new information-based medicine “emerging business opportunity,” which operates under the umbrella IBM created by merging its Healthcare and Life Sciences units in January 2004.

“Information-based medicine is a shift toward a future of medicine that can become more personalized, more predictive, and ultimately more preventive,” Svinte says to Michael L. Millenson, a consultant and visiting scholar at the Kellogg School of Management. To participate in this shift, IBM had to “bridge these two worlds of clinical research and clinical care and drive more collaboration.” The IBM executive gives an example of how information-based medicine demands such a bridge between research and care: A clinical institution will need an information infrastructure that allows them to say to a particular patient, “OK, based on the last X hundred people with this profile that we gave this therapeutic or this therapy, here was the outcome.’”

On the public policy front, Svinte applauds the Food and Drug Administration’s 2003 guidelines for companies that wish to submit pharmacogenomic data. He is distressed, however, by U.S. efforts on “biobanks,” which are “collections of tissues or DNA samples that can be matched with health records to do clinical research and make actual treatment decisions.”

The United States has “300 million biological samples by some estimates, but the collection is not integrated, it’s not catalogued, it’s not accessible,” states Svinte. “We run the risk of being out-innovated and outpaced by our colleagues in other parts of the world,” such as Japan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. In part, as an effort to eliminate fears about donating to biobanks among its own employees, in October 2005 IBM became the first major corporation to promise not to base any employment decisions on the results of genetic testing.

Svinte acknowledges that the health care system as a whole is not ready for information-based medicine just yet. “Why are we worrying about genetic makeup or large databases on treatment effectiveness when we can’t even get physicians and hospitals to give aspirin to patients who just had a heart attack?” Millenson asks. Svinte’s response: Information-based medicine is “for the innovators and early adopters at this point” -- those who have already incorporated principles of evidence-based medicine. “This is not going to be down at the community hospital level next year,” he says.

Nevertheless, IBM is clearly betting that information-based medicine will eventually carry the day. Says Svinte: “Across all of IBM, we’ve selected just six emerging business opportunities -- that’s it. One of them is information-based medicine. One is the entire country of China.”



Health Affairs, published by Project HOPE, is the leading journal of health policy. The peer-reviewed journal appears bimonthly in print with additional online-only papers published weekly as Health Affairs Web Exclusives at


©2006 Project HOPE–The People-to-People Health Foundation, Inc.