The alliance Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced last spring with a coalition of hardware, software, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies seems to be bearing fruit. Last week, the company announced an expansion of its medical research mission that could help further a burgeoning new area of biotechnology.

Participating companies in Microsoft's BioIT Alliance include Accelrys (NASDAQ:ACCL), Affymetrix (NASDAQ:AFFX), Agilent (NYSE:A), Amylin Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ:AMLN), and Applied Biosystems (NYSE:ABI). Lest you think that only companies whose names began with the letter "A" are allowed to join, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) and some 20 other organizations have also signed on.

The alliance's original project was the creation of a data management system called the Collaborative Molecular Environment, focused upon improving the efficiency of drug research by getting members to share experimental data among themselves. Microsoft, of course, was also interested in getting the member companies to expand the use of its own software platforms.

Time will tell whether Microsoft's tool will really help these companies accelerate the development of new and more effective drugs. However, things appear to be going well enough for alliance members to start a second initiative. Last week, officials announced the formation of a new "biomarkers project" that seeks to better understand how a person's genes affect their response to a particular drug.

Among its many great promises, genome mapping may lead to an era of personalized medicine, allowing drug therapies to be individually tailored for maximum efficiency. These developments are still a ways off, but the New England Journal of Medicine reported in August that scientists have already developed a powerful new genetic test to help determine which lung cancer patients should receive chemotherapy.

Personally, I'm confident that patients will increasingly benefit from such genetic testing, and that society will reach the era of personalized medicine sooner rather than later. As such, I like Microsoft's strong push in the biotech space; it's a huge market, poised to grow even larger.

If the company uses the alliance not simply to push its existing software, but also to better understand what biotech customers need and want, I think Microsoft's new drug habit could even provide its long-suffering shareholders a little high.

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich owns stock in Accelrys and Microsoft. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.