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GSK, caBIG give away cancer data to speed research

June 25th, 2008 by dwentworth

It’s no secret that we’re fans of the National Cancer Institute’s caBIG, the Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid. So we were thrilled to learn that the organization, which connects more than 60 NCI centers with a common infrastructure, played a central role this past week in what Wired is calling a “Massive Cancer Information Giveaway.” The big prize, provided by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and shared freely with cancer researchers via caBIG’s platform:  genomic profiling data for over 300 cancer cell lines. The lines were derived from a wide variety of tumors, including breast, prostate, lung and ovarian cancers.

Why would a major pharmaceutical company give away information that its researchers painstakingly uncovered? Put simply, if the goal is to speed the translation of data into drugs, it helps significantly to have more researchers looking at the data and identifying leads.

“Cataloging this type of information in a network like caBIG leads to a ready-made body of biologic information that can be mined by all cancer researchers to further everyone’s understanding of cancer,” explains Dr. Richard Wooster, Director of Translational Medicine Oncology, Research & Development at GlaxoSmithKline, in the company’s media release.  “In turn, we hope this data will further drive the identification of predictive biomarkers and lead to shorter, more directed clinical trials allowing us to bring drugs more quickly to patients who need them.”

Any researcher is free to download the GSK cancer data through caArray. The caArray tool is free and open source.

Science Commons is a strong believer in the utility of a commons-based approach to drug discovery, and this afternoon, John Wilbanks will give a talk at caBIG to discuss how data sharing agreements can help simplify, standardize and automate sharing. We have begun to explore implementing tools such as the CC0 waiver and our machine-readable contracts for transferring materials at caBIG, and we look forward to deepening our involvement as its legal and technical infrastructure continues to take shape.

Update: For another perspective on the giveaway, check out GSK’s big bang on open drug discovery [Business Standard via Rediff News]: “Big pharma claims that it costs as much $1 billion to bring a new molecule to the market and 8-12 years to develop it. That’s something that few companies can afford anymore. For developing countries, too, [open source drug development] may prove to be the route of the future.”

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