Ex-Merck dreamer Friend sharpens open science nonprofit with 'competition' edge

Erstwhile Merck ($MRK) exec Stephen Friend has expanded the reach of his open-science nonprofit Sage Bionetworks via a merger with another nonprofit called the DREAM Project, which rallies researchers to gang up on tricky problems in collaborative competitions.

Sage, based in Seattle, has been pushing for a bold new approach to solving problems in biology with an open computational platform that involves many scientists working together as opposed to secretive academics or pharma groups going after discoveries on their own. And one of the bright new trends in the open-science movement has been the popularity of online competitions.

The DREAM Project, founded by researchers from Columbia University and IBM in 2006, successfully teamed up with Sage last year on one such competition that involved teams sharing code to develop models for a breast cancer prognosis challenge. The two groups have taken their relationship to the next level with the merger announced Feb. 19.

"We want to evolve challenges so that solutions from the last phase become the starting point for a new step towards meaningful validation, and where newly created datasets might allow the answering of important clinical questions" Friend, Sage's president and co-founder, said in a statement.

In the years since Friend left Merck to pioneer new research methods at Sage, some major pharma companies have gotten in on the open-science act. For instance, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has taken steps to make all of the company's data from clinical trials open to researchers. And Boehringer Ingelheim has tapped the community of problem solvers from Kaggle for a crowd-sourcing competition to predict a biological endpoint.

- find Sage's release here
- check out Xconomy's article
- and the item from Bio-IT World