With New Investment, Microsoft Delves Deeper Into Health Care
Microsoft is delving deeper into health-care technology with a commitment to try to develop a blood test that detects diseases in their earliest stage.
The Redmond company announced a partnership with Seattle-based Adaptive Biotechnologies on Thursday, one that will focus on mapping and understanding people's immune-system responses so that illnesses can be found quickly.
As part of the deal, Microsoft has made a significant investment in Adaptive. Neither company would confirm the amount, but they said the project would cost in the low hundreds of millions of dollars and Microsoft would contribute a "substantial portion."
The investment is part of Microsoft's Healthcare NExT initiative, which brings artificial intelligence power to health issues.
Adaptive, which was formed in 2009 with technology from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, works to understand the immune system's response to various diseases. The company is developing a map of sorts to track immune responses.
Microsoft's machine learning and AI technology will be used to help create the map and "read" the code that the immune system transmits, said Adaptive CEO Chad Robins. That includes being able to tell which diseases the immune system has fought before and what it is currently fighting.
Armed with that information, Adaptive plans to develop blood tests that alert doctors when people are fighting specific diseases. Eventually, Microsoft and Adaptive want to create a universal blood test that detects any disease a body might be fighting.
That ultimate test is probably 10 years away, Robins said, but intermediate tests are much closer.
Many diseases are diagnosed by tracking symptoms, he said, but the immune system always knows precisely what it's fighting.
"We want to let the immune system tell the doctor what's wrong with you," Robins said.
Microsoft's technology will consider the huge amounts of data Adaptive collects with immune sequencing.
"The remarkable thing about your immune system is it's an incredibly effective machine-learning system in its own right, "said Peter Lee, Microsoft corporate vice president of AI and research.
Microsoft employees will work closely with Adaptive, and the company plans to hire more people for the team, Lee said.
Adaptive has been a growing force in the Seattle biotech scene for years, and netted $195 million from investors in 2015. The company has close ties to Fred Hutch, where Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella serves as a board trustee.
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