Stanford, UCSD Biologists Take Plunge Into Arpanet-Style Project With Sage Bionetworks
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last year, as he was on the road every week, and out of the country at least once a month, he says. He says he’s pushed himself harder this year than at any point in his medical residency, fellowship, or his 8-year executive stint at Merck. “Every time I interact with a patient group I’m reminded of the fact that it’s worth maintaining this intensity,” Friend says.
Now that Sage has received some degree of financial security, and some validation from academics willing to give it a shot, comes the hard work of operations. Sage has grown from an original team of 14 people, housed at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, to a little more than 20 today, Friend says. There are huge technical challenges to dive into now. One of the first is in working on what he calls “disease maps” in which biologists can better predict what will happen when a given drug interacts with a molecular target, particularly how that will affect disease symptoms and side effects. Unlike building an airplane, where engineers can predict what will happen by running aerodynamic simulations on a computer, today’s disease models are “incomplete.”
As if that weren’t daunting enough, that’s really just the first challenge. Sage needs to convince more and more biologists to dump their data into the open. Friend has spent much of his time jawboning Big Pharma execs, seeking to talk them into handing over huge clinical trial databases that match up genetic data and clinical results, without handing their competitors data they consider proprietary. Friend says a few pharma companies have already gone along with this, by agreeing to hand over partial databases in which results on their innovative new drugs is withheld, but in which data from patients in control groups is made available.
Once the data arrives at Sage, there’s still more fundamental work to be done before it’s useful to anybody. Sage is building a computational platform, in which software engineers are writing new algorithms, which help put these diverse sets of data into formats that are useful. For now, Sage has found a place to store all this data on servers at the University of Miami, where the nonprofit is getting a bargain rate … Next Page »