Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More commercial drug data moves to the public domain

Open access to large-scale drug discovery data, an announcement from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), July 23, 2008.  Excerpt:

The Wellcome Trust has awarded 4.7 million (5.8 million) [$9.3 million] to EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) to support the transfer of a large collection of information on the properties and activities of drugs and a large set of drug-like small molecules from the publicly listed company Galapagos NV to the public domain. It will be incorporated into the EMBL-EBI's collection of open-access data resources for biomedical research and will be maintained by a newly established team of scientists at the EMBL-EBI. These data lie at the heart of translating information from the human genome into successful new drugs in the clinic....

As part of the Wellcome Trust grant announced today, the EBI will obtain the rights to the databases from BioFocus DPI [the service division of Galapagos]. The award will make it possible to provide free access to this information for all researchers. "The scientific community worldwide will greatly benefit from unrestricted access to these data. It will aid their efforts in predictive drug discovery," says Galapagos CEO Onno van de Stolpe. "Galapagos has successfully accelerated its research programmes with these, and BioFocus DPI used the data to deliver on its contracts with customers. After this transfer, which we hope will contribute to the advancement of drug discovery research by improving access to the data that we have collected, we will continue to use these resources."

The transfer will empower academia to participate in the first stages of drug discovery for all therapeutic areas, including major diseases of the developing world....

[S]ays EMBL-EBI Director Janet Thornton: "With this transfer, we aim to facilitate faster and better drug discovery...."


  • Note that Galapagos is not saying that these data have outlived their usefulness.  On the contrary, it will continue to make use of them itself.  The theory here is that open data will accelerate drug discovery, even for the company which formerly held them to itself.  When Novartis did the same thing in 2007, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams described it this way:  "[B]y placing its data in the public domain, Novartis hopes to leverage the talents and insights of a global research community to dramatically scale and speed up its early-stage R&D activities....By sharing basic scientific data and collaborating across institutional boundaries, companies like Novartis and Intel are challenging a deeply held belief that early stage R&D activities are best pursued within the confines of secretive laboratories. As a result, both were able to cut costs, accelerate innovation, create more wealth for shareholders, and ultimately help society reap the benefits of scientific research more quickly...."  Some now call this practice precompetitive sharing
  • Also note that the Wellcome Trust grant goes to EMBL, to host and manage these data, not to Galapagos, to relinquish them.
  • Kudos to Galapagos and Wellcome Trust not only for opening these data, but for choosing the public domain rather than a license.  This fits with Science Commons' latest thinking on barrier-free research and collaboration in the Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data.

Update.  Also see the comment from John Wilbanks of Science Commons:

...This makes the scientific data that Galapagos has gathered an extraordinary gift not just to science, but to open science....Returning the data to the public domain removes the legal barriers that prevent us from making full use of the latest technologies for data integration and analysis. The Galapagos data can now be used in ways no one can anticipate the very definition of innovation....