A golden opportunity for open science

I give a few talks to different kinds of scientific audiences, and it is always important that I feel a passion for the subject that I can bring over. Last week I had the opportunity to talk to many IT decision makers at global drug companies about collaboration. Today I gave an invited co-presentation (with Antony J. Williams) to the Burroughs Wellcome Fund board of directors. I was nervous beforehand and perhaps rightly so because this was the most important presentation of my life. The opportunity was to potentially influence some very important academics and funding organisations that open science and biomedical collaboration is the future.

So what did we present, in summary:

1. Why we need open drug discovery (as an example of open science in general)- driven by the high costs of R&D which virtually precludes small companies from taking a drug from idea to market alone. All pharmas have created similar pharmas to do R&D and all have silos of data that will not see the light of day unless they change their approach to data. We think companies need to make precompetitive data open and their increased collaborations will require collaborative software for connecting diverse groups.

2. Why our recent book could be a good starting point for groups or individuals that want to learn about this area including open science.

3. Funding of science in Europe is more collaborative and leading to open data and open tools – more collaboration is happening and work in neglected diseases is fostering open drug discovery.

4. We also cautioned that chemistry data in public databases (as an example) needs to be better quality, and errors proliferate from one database to another. We used the NPC browser here as a cautionary example (we applaud the effort, but the initial results were less impressive).

5. We need to think about what tools can be used for open science from blogs to twitter. I gave the example of green solvents to show how Twitter and blogs could lead to a scientific mobile app.

6. We need to encourage scientists to do innovative science in their garage or basement – that could be the creation of databases like chemspider or beyond.

7. Can we encourage companies (whether pharmas or consumer products) to share their more sensitive data as open computational models so that people could not see molecules. This could provide coverage of chemistry space which one company alone could not do.

8. A complex ecosystem exists and new business models are created as different organisations collaborate with each other to share molecules, models or data – imagine what could happen if all the data was open – it could lead to discoveries in unexpected places beyond traditional institution borders.

9. The drug discovery and for that matter biomedical scientific networks in 2020 will be complex networks. This will require technologies and collaboration Apps.

10. What is needed for open science  – make sure open data is correct (e.g. correct molecule structures), make sure open tools are validated, support scientists making data open, lobby grant providers to require grantees to make their data public etc..

11. Open science in its present incarnation is just starting – can we educate students in doing open science (I asked the BOD if any of them taught open science – none of them did).

12. We are missing an open database for sharing data and storing it globally – commercial examples exist, currently there are few open journals and most are cost prohibitive to submit to unless you have financial support, how can we measure scientists contributions to Open science?

Over a few weeks I have been profoundly shaped by interactions with different audiences and my environment. I am a collaborative scientist, I work at home and sit in front of a computer most of the day (except when invited to talk somewhere) collaborating via the web, email, apps etc. I think open science is the way forward. Two weeks ago I walked past a lab at MIT and saw the inscriptions of great scientists writ high and wondered in generations what names will we write on scientific institutions to inspire future generations, what will we remember? The 21st century has so far seen massive collaborations like the human genome project, many consortia (e.g. the structural genomics consortium). Will these be what we remember in a century, or will they be the tools that are facilitating the spread of scientific knowledge (the names of the many databases, Google, PubMed, etc) or the very computers themselves? I think we will all be open scientists.

I see future discoveries enabled by groups of collaborators in unlikely places. Affiliation with an organisation or institute will not be necessary. Big science will be possible in little labs doing open science.





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  1. Antony Williams, ChemConnector says:

    It was a pleasure to participate in that meeting with you Sean. I believe that the board have a better understanding of what is going on with Open Science now in regards to Drug Discovery and what might be possible in the future. I recommend every read the talk and comment!

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