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Microsoft to Work With Gene-Therapy Company Oxford Biomedica

Microsoft will use its Azure cloud and machine-learning software to develop ways to increase the productivity and purity of viruses that Oxford Biomedica makes to carry healthy genetic sequences into cells with broken and malformed genes.

(Bloomberg) -- Software giant Microsoft Corp. is working with U.K. biotechnology firm Oxford Biomedica Plc on developing better ways of repairing the genes of people with life-threatening diseases.

Microsoft will use its Azure cloud and machine-learning software to develop ways to increase the productivity and purity of viruses that Oxford Biomedica makes to carry healthy genetic sequences into cells with broken and malformed genes, according to a statement Tuesday. The collaboration will last for two years and can be extended.

Gene therapy is rapidly becoming a focus for drugmakers around the world, as companies like Roche Holding AG and Novartis AG buy up biotechnology firms developing new genetic treatments for inherited diseases. While the new therapies have the potential to cure conditions that today are disabling or lethal, research and production are expensive.

“Our goal is to enable faster, cheaper and more reliable manufacture of high quality next-generation cell and gene therapies to allow more patients to benefit,” Jason Slingsby, Oxford Biomedica’s chief business officer, said in the statement.

The collaboration will combine its work in development and manufacturing with a Microsoft project called Station B, Oxford Biomedica said. The British company’s shares slipped as much as 2.6 percent in London trading on Tuesday.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft has been working on cloud and artificial-intelligence products to help doctors streamline data entry, triage patients and target cancer care. The Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. drugstore chain is using Azure to connect patients’ health-care data with clinicians and pharmacists, among other things.

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