Posted by Fiona, May 2018

Public research data repositories driving innovation

We recently contributed to the ELIXIR report 'Public data resources as a business model for SMEs'. Based on a review of business models and the different types of companies that use open life sciences data, the report explores how open data (which is often made available free of charge, but nonetheless requires funding and maintenance) contribute to innovation and, in turn, generate revenue for businesses and benefit for users of the products and services that are created. The same can be said for the sharing of expertise, knowledge, and resources – such as the Internet, or an existing piece of code. It’s not only smaller businesses and consumers who benefit from accessing these ‘free’ resources: of the seven SMEs featured in the ELIXIR report, all boast larger companies among their users and benefactors.

As Sean McMahon of i3 Education Services highlighted in a Deloitte report on the use of government data by business: “Open data is creating a bottom-up data economy where 24/7 citizen-led scrutiny will revolutionise public services – the social and economic implications are potentially immense”. To put this point into a consumer context, the ELIXIR report features the example of Garmin. Garmin customises and adds value to an existing public data resource – OpenStreetMaps – for the benefit of its customers, with products such as the Garmin watch which tracks fitness activities and the Garmin GPS navigator.

Repositive is part of this international community of businesses that benefit from accessing public data and resources, made available by other individuals or organisations. It is thanks to publicly available data that researchers using our platform can search and discover the data they need to be able to test hypotheses which, in turn, supports better and faster research of human diseases and cures. When significant progress or disruption is achieved in one company or one industry, the bar is then raised for all other players. And when individuals are able to incorporate these new technologies or findings into the products or processes they are innovating, progress is propelled faster and further, for the benefit of the whole community. So real progress really ought not to be competition-based, but collaboration-based – especially when the progress we are focusing on is finding cancer cures!

By describing the stories of companies within the life sciences with business models based entirely on accessing this public data and infrastructure, the ELIXIR report encourages a wider appreciation of the value of ‘free’ data:

“For almost any question, there is often an already open source solution; instead of developing a new proprietary solution from scratch, some SMEs leverage what is already available, ensuring it is tailored to customers’ needs. Depositing the final product in the public domain has been demonstrated to reduce costs, as the wider community contributes to the maintenance and improvement of that software.

This openness also enables continuous collaboration on cutting edge software and data between academia, non-profit organisations and commercial companies. Many of the developments are made public, to remain true to the principles of Open Data. Alternatively, some companies broker access to open data sources that have controlled access to protocols due to their sensitive nature, helping scientists to find the right datasets, even offering tailored training and advice in accessing data via Data Access Committees.”

When the data in question is incredibly difficult to access otherwise, data sharing can achieve so much more:

“Many bioinformatics SMEs would find their operations impossible if it weren’t for the public bioinformatics infrastructure they rely upon. Public data are fundamental to their business.”

We are big believers in making data discoverable and enabling data re-use to drive research and innovation. We facilitate genomic data discovery, simplify metadata organisation, and enable data sharing and collaboration of human genomics data, with the aim of lowering barriers to access. Our business model is based on connecting data producers with data consumers, to accelerate genomic research for patient benefit; our platform reduces the time researchers spend on data scouting, aggregation, and comparison, by providing a suite of products and services to meet researchers’ needs. We are incredibly passionate about public data being available to researchers and wholeheartedly promote and encourage secure and ethical data sharing.

Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that develops methods and software tools for understanding biological data – but individuals who have expertise across the range of skillsets required are rare. A lack of access to complementary skills as well as a lack of access to data will substantially slow progress. But if our experts and researchers no longer need to replicate existing research, devise processes that have been proven elsewhere, or develop code that is already in use in other organisations, they will be able to spend more time utilising their expertise on the precise task at hand.

So we are certainly pleased to see ELIXIR starting essential discussions about who is responsible for funding and maintaining open data and infrastructure, and we were happy to support the publication of the report. We hope its publication will inspire more research to be undertaken to quantify the extent to which businesses and wider society benefit from these ‘open’ resources – and to see a greater number of disease treatments and cures among the list of resulting innovations.

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Fiona Nielsen

Fiona Nielsen

Chief Executive Officer
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