TOKYO -- A supercomputer being built to help drug developers analyze proteins will be the most powerful machine of its kind when it comes online later this year, according to the government-backed Riken research institute.
Riken has already finished work on the basic design and underlying technology of the machine. It will reportedly be able to model changes in protein structures in just one day -- roughly 100 times faster than the famed K computer, Japan's mightiest, albeit less specialized, supercomputer.
Hitachi helped develop technology for the project, which is estimated to cost around 800 million yen ($7.81 million). The machine is about the size of four bookcases and will be housed at Riken's Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming to make medicine and health care a pillar of his pro-growth policies. Riken plans to let Japanese universities and pharmaceutical companies use the new computer to give them a leg up in drug research and development.
As advances in biotechnology become a major driving force behind the development of cancer therapies, the key to success increasingly lies in how quickly researchers can grasp the complex structures of proteins implicated in disease. Leading American and European pharmaceutical firms are already actively using supercomputers in the field.
While no global rankings exist for machines dedicated to this kind of specialized work, Riken says the new computer will be faster than the most powerful drug research supercomputer in the U.S.