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IT Helps Drug Companies Boost Efficiency

New products from IBM and SureScript Systems are designed to help develop and deliver drugs more efficiently.

The pharmaceuticals industry is increasingly turning to IT to help create drug development and delivery efficiencies that can help offset the skyrocketing costs of putting medications in the hands of the people who need them. IBM Monday introduced its new InsightLink software, an application created by its IBM Life Sciences and IBM Research divisions to help drug makers create searchable online research repositories that will enable more sharing of information.

On the retail side of the industry, SureScript Systems Inc. Monday rolled out its SureScripts Messenger Services, a transaction network that provides secure connectivity of E-prescriptions between physicians and drugstores, as well as the format for those messages to be sent electronically. A beta version of the network had previously been available only to Rhode Island pharmacies.

Whereas SureScripts Messaging Services is designed to facilitate the process of getting medication in the hands of patients, IBM's InsightLink targets the drug-discovery phase, helping pharmaceutical companies eliminate redundant work and foster collaboration among researchers.

Individual pharmaceutical companies such as Eli Lilly and Co. have been using their own lead optimization repositories for years. IBM's InsightLink should help make online repository technology more mainstream in the pharmaceuticals industry. Lilly's data repository is designed to help its researchers identify which chemical compounds are most likely to become the building blocks for new drugs and act as a data warehouse where researchers store information about the chemicals they're researching.

The new IBM offering, which will be generally available in the fourth quarter, complements IBM DiscoveryLink data-integration software, which helps researchers search for and integrate data from diverse data sources and file types. Researchers can get a single-formatted view of information without moving the data or changing its underlying format.

On the retail side, SureScripts estimates that more than half of the pharmacies in the United States will be connected its Messenger Services network by the end of the year. The network will let pharmacies send prescription information to and communicate with physicians without the need to pick up the telephone. Brooks Pharmacy, CVS Corp., and Walgreen Co. stores in Rhode Island already are connected to the Messenger Services network and will begin rolling out the service to stores on a market-by-market basis, says a SureScripts company spokeswoman.

Prior to the Messenger Services network, the only way pharmacies could contact doctors for prescription-refill information was via phone or fax, says Jim Smith, CVS's senior VP of health-care services. The network is expected to save time and money spent calling and faxing prescriptions and help pharmacies meet an increasing demand for pharmaceuticals. Now that all 45 of CVS's Rhode Island locations are connected to Messenger Services, the company is planning by the end of the year to add stores in Massachusetts, Ohio, and Washington, D.C.

CVS programmers worked for three months developing the proper interfaces between the company's IT systems and those of Messenger Services, Smith says. Much of this work went toward making sure the company's proprietary pharmacy-management system could send and receive data from the network. "Long term, this is going to significantly enhance efficiencies between pharmacies and physician's offices," Smith says, adding that the system meets all Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requirements for the secure transfer of patient information.

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