Big news today at the CHI Medicine Tri-Conference. Merck has pledged to donate a remarkable resource to the commons – a vast database of highly consistent data about the biology of disease, as well as software tools and other resources to use it. The resources come out of work done at the Rosetta branch of Merck (you might remember them as the company whose sale capped a boom in bioinformatics) and is at its root a network biology system. In use inside Rosetta/Merck last year alone it led directly to a ton of publications.
This is all going to happen through the establishment of a non-profit organization called Sage to serve as the guardian of the resources. It’s not about making a quick data dump onto the web, however. Sage is going to take a while during an “incubation period of three to five years…in which new project data are generated, critical tools for building and mining disease models are developed and governing rules for sharing, accessing, and contributing to the platform are established.”
This is complex content and it’s going to take some ongoing work to expose everything in a usable way. But the resources are headed for the public domain, and will be a remarkable capacity builder for those who currently work without the best tools and data as a base for their science. Sage means that we are now on the path to a world in which scientists working on HIV in Brazilian non-profit research institutes (like my mother-in-law) will be able to use the same powerful computational disease biology tools as those inside Merck. I’m very much looking forward to living in that world.
I am proud to serve on the founding Board of Directors for Sage. I hope to play a role in making sure that the Open Access part of Sage’s mission comes to life in a way that not only keeps the content and resources available to all, but serves as a key for future growth and applications. The law isn’t the big story here – the science is – but if we can get the law right, it can catalyze the emergence of a robust public domain in disease biology for us all to benefit from.
This is an incredibly significant step on the road to open biology – time will tell if it’s as earthshaking as IBM’s embrace of GNU/Linux – and I can’t wait to see where it all goes. Congratulations to the team that built this platform and then had the vision to take it into the commons.