Collaborative genetics, part 5: Next steps for genetic commons

Previous installment:
Private practice, how to respect the patient

Sage is growing, and everything they’re doing to promote the commons now will likely continue. They’ll sign up more pharma companies to contribute data and more researchers to work in teams, such as in the Federation.

Although genetics seems to be a narrow area, it’s pretty central to everything that government, hospitals, and even insurers want to achieve in lowering costs and improving care. This research is at the heart of such tasks as:

  • Making drug development faster and cheaper (drugs are now a major source of inflation in in health care, particularly among the growing elderly population)

  • Discovering in advance which patients will fail to respond to drugs, thus lowering costs and allowing them to access correct treatments faster

  • Improving our knowledge of the incidence and course of diseases in general

From my perspective–knowing little about medical research but a fair among about software–the two biggest areas that need attention are standardized formats and software tools to support such activities as network modeling and analyzing results. Each institution tends to be on its own, but there are probably a lot of refined tools out there that could help everybody.

Researchers may well underestimate how much effort needs to go into standardizing software tools and formats, and how much pay-off that work would produce. Researchers tend to be loners, brave mountaineers who like to scale the peaks on their own and solve each problem through heroism along the way. Investing in a few cams and rappels could greatly enhance their success.

Publicity and public engagement are good for any initiative, but my guess is that, if Sage and its collaborators develop some awesome tools and show more of the results we started to see at this conference, other institutions will find their way to them.

This posting is the last of a five-part series.

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  • Another approach to promoting the commons for drug development is the Open Source Drug Discovery Project in India ( The Project goes beyond genomics and provides a collaborative platform to develop medicines for tropical diseases.

    You are correct that software and standardized tools are important for effective collaborations. The caBIG project ( sponsored by the National Cancer Institute is one initiative to achieve this goal. My company, Selican Technologies ( is developing a web-based platform that supports dispersed research collaborations. Our goal is to create a virtual workspace where collaborating teams can share common analysis tools and review and discuss data.