In the same mould as the increasingly popular [email protected] project, Intel is backing a scheme to involve people all over the world in processing cancer research data.

With $1m in philanthropic backing from chip monster Intel, some of the architects of the [email protected] distributed computing project set out yesterday to enlist millions of PC owners in the search for cancer cures.

The project, dubbed the Intel Philanthropic Peer-to-Peer Program, requires people to download an application that will apply their PC's unused processing power to the cancer puzzle.

"We hope to recruit six million users over the next year," says Pat Gelsinger, vice president and chief technical officer of Intel's Architecture Group.

"At that number, their machines will have the collective processing power equivalent to a 50 teraflop supercomputer running day and night," he says. "That's 10 times bigger than the world's largest existing supercomputer assembled for less than one percent of the cost." One teraflop equals a trillion floating-point computations per second.

[email protected], the largest existing distributed computing project, pools more than two million PCs worldwide to search recorded radio signals for signs of intelligent life in space.

The Intel-sponsored initiative will start by focusing on seeking drugs to block four key proteins that promote human cancers, including childhood leukemia.