"Open source biology" takes center stage

San Francisco was at the center of the movement to provide "open" tools for biomedical research last week. Sage Bionetworks, based in Seattle, held its second annual Commons Congress at a venue at the University of California, San Francisco on April 15 and April 16.

The event highlighted Sage's effort to establish a common language for human disease biology, one that researchers can access freely online to advance new discoveries and to find new ways to improve human health. Xconomy's Luke Timmerman took a stand on this issue early in the week with a column called "Open Source Biology Deserves a Shot," in which he checks in with Sage founder Stephen Friend about the state of the two-year-old nonprofit's effort to get biomedical researchers to share data about diseases online.

Friend, a former bigwig executive at Merck ($MRK), told Timmerman that Sage has encountered some resistance to its cause from those in the research community who presumably would rather keep data on diseases locked down for their own use. Despite some progress, Sage is still finding that some academic institutes are clinging to their data in the name of protecting intellectual property, and scientists have resisted openness in their pursuit to get published in prestigious journals, Timmerman wrote.

While my travels in Boston kept me from attending the Commons Congress in San Francisco, I was encouraged that Sage, very much in the spirit of its mission, is making the content from the event freely available online. Whether people agree with Sage's cause or not, I think it's worth hearing out those who advocate for improving access to information on diseases and sharing data. If these folks help speed the discovery of new treatments, they could help save our lives someday.

- take the time to read Timmerman's column
- check out the webcast of Sage's meeting