NIH launches Open Science prize to promote data sharing

The NIH is offering a cash reward to researchers who come up with a plan to advance so-called open science as it part of its continued efforts to encourage data sharing.

The winner of the newly announced Open Science Prize will receive $230,000. It will be selected from a roster of up to 6 competitors, who will be given $80,000 to develop their ideas based on the advice of a panel of experts. The competing open data concepts must be submitted by December 2016, and the winner is expected to be selected on Feb. 28.

"Research is a global, data-driven enterprise and our ability to improve health increasingly hinges on our ability to manage and make sense of the enormous amounts of data being produced by scientific research," said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, in a statement. "I expect the Open Science Prize to generate innovative ideas to improve data access and establish new international collaborations that will illustrate the transformative power of sharing research data."

London-based charity Wellcome Trust is contributing funds toward the Open Science Prize, as is The Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

This is the latest in a string or prize-based competitions launched by the NIH, at least in the device world. In May, the NIH selected 16 winners of its Neuro Startup Challenge to commercialize neurological devices and diagnostics based on outlicensed agency patents. And in May the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism issued the $200,000 Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge in search of med tech that provides accurate information on how much an individual is drinking.

But when it comes to ensuring the free flow of scientific information, the NIH demonstrated that it is willing to use the stick and not just the carrot. In November, it proposed that makers of unapproved drugs and devices post summaries of study results on, the government's public portal, within a year of trial conclusion. As it stands, sponsors are required to disclose results only on studies of approved products, which accounted for about 15,000 of the roughly 178,000 trials posted on the site.

Open data was also discussed during the annual AdvaMed med tech conference, where cardiologist Dr. Eric Topol proclaimed that individual's access to their personal health information should be a civil right. He envisioned a world where patients are empowered and informed by a continuous stream of data, which is easily produced at home using a plethora of wearable smartphone-enabled mobile devices and patient monitors.

Meanwhile, several pacemaker patients such as Hugo Campos have complained that they are not allowed to access the data produced by the cardiology implant inside their own body. Manufacturers like Medtronic ($MDT) say they would need to create a device that's FDA-approved for sharing patient information (and the agency has supported the statement), while clinicians say the data is difficult to interpret, and would lead to unnecessary anxiety or behavior.

Medtronic would not give Campos the pacemaker summary reports or raw data, but his doctor did agree to email the reports to the patient, the WSJ reported. He also bought a pacemaker programmer on eBay to download the raw data, and with the help of a two-week course on cardiac rhythm management, is using the information to modify his diet.

- read the NIH's announcement
- here's more about the competition