The division now boasts more than 1,000 employees, double- to triple-digit revenue growth, and a glittering roster of customers including Celera Genomics, the Mayo Clinics, Aventis, and Merck. As the data from the genome mother lode doubles in size every six months, IBM supplies the advanced computational algorithms and supercomputers to analyze it, guaranteeing the company a big slice of the estimated $30 billion life sciences market. One IBM partner, Decode Genetics of Iceland, recently discovered a gene linked to osteoporosis.

Today, according to one study, it takes 12 to 15 years and almost $800 million to bring a new drug to patients. Doing those tests on computers — in silico, as Kovac puts it — would save enormous amounts of time and money, and so hasten the progress of the drug to market. For example, advanced modeling and simulations could show how an organ like the heart will react to a new drug being developed. No wonder Kovac says she’s “sitting at the conjunction of two worlds that are the most transforming technologies of the entire millennium.” Sitting in on potential cures for humankind’s most daunting diseases doesn’t sound half-bad, either.

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