In Focus: Public-private partnerships

In Focus: Public-private partnerships


The bioinformatics community has always been
a champion of open science and open data and we’ve seen this in lots of global collaborations
that they’ve been a part of. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a shift
in this as companies become more cooperative between each other and there’s also been a
shift in funding for academic institutions. We’re seeing more and more collaborations
between academia and industry and these have been of the form where results have gone into
the public domain or been made accessible for everybody to use after. For example, the results from the Open Targets
initiative, which is a large collaboration between several pharmaceutical companies,
the Wellcome Sanger Institute and EMBL-EBI, to identify drug targets, have seen several
publications to date and these publications have been consumed not just by the pharmaceutical
companies, but also by academics to answer questions such as ‘What are the mechanisms
behind cancer?’. We also see at the Open Targets platform, which is a software platform being used by pharma companies everywhere because it’s open-source,
it’s available for everyone to use, and companies are using this internally and sometimes even
deploying internal versions, and building on the platform for their own purposes. We’re also seeing companies coming together
to work on projects such as the UK Biobank and fund the sequencing of half a million
individuals and make the results of this available for everybody to access. Of course, there’s a number of challenges
in working this way. Not all institutions, either in the private
sector or public institutes are used to working this way. This way of working, this form of close collaboration really needs people to come together, to share knowledge, to share data and work towards making data available. For this kind of close collaboration to work
on a day-to-day basis we need really good operational models that put into place the
right frameworks around intellectual property, legalities and even the right kind of governance
that still enable open science outputs whilst still enabling companies to profit from this
kind of work. At EMBL-EBI we’ve been working with companies
for 25 years and over this time we’ve developed a lot of experience in understanding company
problems and developing the right solutions for these, whether it’s open data resources,
the tools or even driving community standards. We’ve also been part of large international
collaborations, often taking on the role as a data coordination partner, so again we’ve
been dealing with big data and turning this data into knowledge, making that available
for other people to reuse. One thing that we see as a key success factor
for this kind of collaborations is actually co-location, where industry scientists can
sit side by side with EBI scientists and work together on problems, you know, sharing their
knowledge, coming at the problem from these different mindsets and then creating solutions
that really work. There are so many unanswered questions in
biology and if you really want to find new medicines or better ways of producing food,
we need to come together as a scientific community and work on these big questions together. So, sharing data, working closely together, is what I see as the way forward and I really hope it’s the way that we work together in the future.

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