Ontario Cancer Institute receives $1-million supercomputer

IBM Canada Ltd. said Monday it has awarded a high-performance computer valued at $1-million to the Ontario Cancer Institute that will help it understand the way proteins react together and potentially accelerate drug discovery.


Igor Jurisica, a scientist with the Ontario Cancer Institute/Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, was the recipient of the award.

It was given under IBM’s Shared University Research program, an equipment-grant service that provides hardware “”in areas of research that are mutually of interest”” to IBM, said Don Aldridge, business development executive, health care and life sciences, at IBM Canada in Markham, Ont.

Jurisica’s group has been using IBM’s eServer pSeries 690 high-performance computer to warehouse, analyze, visualize and distribute human protein-protein interactions for under a year. Jurisica said the server has allowed his research team to “”significantly speed up”” the way and depth to which it interprets information related to human cancers.

It also taps IBM software products such as a DB2 database and DiscoveryLink, an IBM application designed for life sciences.

The Ontario Cancer Institute’s experience using IBM supercomputers equipment stems back to 1998, said Jurisica. He said “”prior performance ratios for IBM was much better than with Sun, so since Day 1, basically, we started to work with them. And then it was expanding into also software offerings and also research contacts.

“”One of the problems with our application is that we will never have enough CPU and storage for any of these applications. So we continuously have to expand what we have or update. Some of the equipment is basically dating to ’98, and it’s becoming quite slow for many of the computations.””

Jurisica’s group is the last Canadian project that will be announced this year, said Aldridge. “”We have others that, of course, we’re working on, but they’re not at the announcement stage yet.””

IBM’s grants to Canadian companies in the health care and life sciences fields average $500,000 to $1 million per project, said Aldridge. He said each year IBM awards about three or four in Canada and 40 to 50 around the world.

Among these are the Mayo Clinic, which IBM has helped to link patient characteristics, or phenotypic information, with biological information, in other words, “”genetic profiling, protein information, serum, blood information, what have you,”” he explained.

He said in Canada, the iCAPTURE Institute at the University of British Columbia is doing similar work in the clinical genomics world using IBM’s high-performance computing equipment. Specifically, it’s working towards solving the problems of heart, lung, and blood vessel diseases.

Supported by an IBM award, last year researchers at the University of Alberta’s Institute of Biomolecular Design began to develop a virtual cell, a microorganism that lives only in cyberspace, to cut health care costs, speed the development of new drugs and test new treatments.

IBM investments focus not so much on “”the high-performance computing aspect of it. That’s a — I wouldn’t say a drag-along — but that’s a natural by-product of the more important elements, which would be things like the clinical genomics and systems biology work,”” Aldridge explained.

“”So the actual application is probably more important than the hardware.””

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