Collaborating for breakthroughs

July 4th, 2008 by dwentworth

Over at the FasterCures blog, Margaret Anderson, the organization’s Chief Operating Officer, has a post on the recent Institute of Medicine forum: Breakthrough Business Models: Drug Development for Rare and Neglected Diseases and Individualized Therapies. Anderson, who moderated a panel at the forum, observes that while the Michael J. Fox Foundation is often cited as an example of what’s working well, surprisingly few research foundations embrace its innovative approaches. Key among them:  pursuing collaborations with for-profit companies.

The focus of the forum was on finding new models for drug development, and many speakers echoed Anderson in emphasizing the need for more public-private collaboration. Our own Kaitlin Thaney was there, and spoke with fellow participants about our newest project, the Health Commons. The project, launched in collaboration with CommerceNet, CollabRx and the Public Library of Science (PLoS), is designed specifically to lift barriers to collaborations among non-profit and for-profit entities.

“In the Health Commons, participants agree to share data, knowledge, materials and services under standard, pre-negotiated terms and conditions,” explains Thaney. “That way, resources can move smoothly among participants, without the legal wrangling and delays that can derail collaboration.”

One of the most troublesome areas, for foundations and companies alike, is materials transfer. On the panel that Anderson moderated, Michael Mowatt, who directs the Office of Technology Development at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH, described how using standardized agreements and repositories can facilitate collaboration, and explained how our Biological Materials Transfer Agreement (MTA) project lays the groundwork for “virtual repositories” of biological materials.

You can find more information about the MTA project here. If you’d like to learn more about the Health Commons, you can check out the white paper or video introduction at the project site.  And if you’d like more details on the IOM forum, you can find the agenda and a collection of audio recordings and slides at the IOM forum website.

Update: Public Knowledge co-founder David Bollier has a post sharing his reflections on the Health Commons project:

For those of us who don’t venture into the laboratories of science, it’s difficult to appreciate how fragmented, proprietary and inefficient drug and disease research truly is. At a time when the Internet is making it easier than ever to share and collaborate, some of the most well-funded, high-tech scientific projects today still operate in their own isolated silos. They are effectively cut off from vast quantities of potentially useful research, scientific literature, emerging ideas and potential collaborators. […]
Tenenbaum and Wilbanks are two of the champions behind an ambitious new project, Health Commons, which aspires to build a new ecosystem for scientific research.

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