Battle against breast cancer goes open source

After a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision shielded Myriad Genetics' genetic data on breast cancer from disclosure, the nonprofit coalition Free the Data! launched a campaign to open troves of molecular information about widespread tumors with the help of big data software outfit Syapse.

The coalition plans to begin with offering researchers and medical professionals access to data on BRCA1 and BRCA1 mutations associated with breast cancer. The high court ruled in June that companies such as Myriad ($MYGN) could not patent genes. However, as GigaOM reported, Myriad is entitled to hide its information on genes from external medical researchers and others.

Free the Data! aims to compile data on the breast cancer-related genes from other sources, and the interpretation software from Syapse will enable researchers to slice and dice information for their studies. This effort follows a number of "open science" initiatives from Sage Bionetworks, Open Source Drug Discovery and others. And the breast cancer project could put Syapse in the spotlight at a pivotal time in the young company's history.

Syapse, formed by Stanford University buddies in 2008, has built a platform for structuring molecular "big data" from multiple sources. The technology uses semantics to organize the vast quantities of information with the aim of enabling researchers and medical professionals to find patterns or signals that inform studies of disease or decisions about patient treatments. Foundation Medicine, a provider of next-generation sequencing tests for cancer patients, is one of the early users of Syapse's software.

The Palo Alto-based startup is joining forces with the Genetic Alliance, University of California San Francisco, InVitae and others to form the Free the Data! program.

"Syapse is committed to the free and open interpretation of the genome, but interpreting the genome requires a larger evidence base than any one entity can develop," Syapse President Jonathan Hirsch stated. "Pooling genetic and clinical data will rapidly advance medical knowledge of clinically relevant genetic mutations, leading to more effective diagnosis, treatment and cures."

- here's the release
- see the GigaOM article
- and the news from MIT Technology Review