TRW Takes First Cut at Medical Market

The Cleveland, Ohio-based credit giant applies artificial intelligence to help drug companies make better use of commercial databases

RW's "black" scientists who helped U.S. intelligence gatherers break into foreign databases around the world during the last decade have a new post-Cold War mission -- figure out how to use the firm's snooping talents to capture civilian greenbacks.

Transferring defense technologies to commercial applications is nothing new to the $7.9 billion company that already does business in the intelligent transportation industry, the remote sensing market and even environmental cleanup.

But the Cleveland-based defense giant is delving into new territory with a product that uses its database-cracking technologies to help the $87 billion pharmaceutical industry analyze the hundreds of clinical studies going on each week around the world. This is the company's first crack at breaking into the medical information technology business, and TRW says it's only the beginning.

TRW is launching its software aimed at drug companies to test the waters for building a business around health-care information technology, said Bill Hogan, general manager of TRW's Business Intelligence Systems group in Sunnyvale, Calif. But even though TRW considers drug companies part of the health-care industry, some analysts say that TRW's software doesn't really cut into this $4 billion market because pharmaceutical firms don't provide health-care services.

That aside, TRW's decision to market its first product for drug companies was a calculated move made after extensive research. The firm studied how it could make its database-busting technology work for the automotive industry, petroleum exploration firms, and in legal markets, but decided drug makers had an immediate problem that the firm could solve right away, Hogan said.

Pharmaceutical companies have an overwhelming amount of information to track in order to stay up to date on drug developments. Commercial databases gather the information, but companies must analyze each separate entry.

TRW's Smart Charts cuts the information workload by making collection and organization of the data one step. The Windows-based software searches medical databases and automatically puts into report form whatever specifics the user requests.

"TRW's software is more cost-effective than downloading from the raw databases" and the information is easier to use, said Andrew Becker, executive vice president of the Mendel Group, a Redwood, Calif.-based biomedical consulting firm. Becker, who tested early versions of the software for TRW, said a 30-minute computer search with TRW

produced the information that traditionally would have taken at least five hours to gather and organize.

Princeton, N.J.-based Bristol-Myers Squibb, Boots Pharmaceuticals of London, and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Alza Corporation are among the 30 to 50 pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms that have bought the $5,000 software since it was introduced in September.

TRW's software currently works with three commercial medical databases. There are more than 100 other databases that track medical advancements, and TRW plans to bring four additional data sources into their system each year, Hogan said.

The company is currently determining which databases to

add first to Smart Charts, hoping to attract the most customers

to its artificial intelligence-developed technology. There are potentially tens of thousands of people who will want more efficient access to medical data, Hogan said.

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