Background on the Commons

The Commons was formed based on historical context and the acute need for a new approach to using complex genetic information for drug development

A readily-accessible network

The 2001 release of the human genome sequence followed the longstanding scientific tradition of disseminating experimental results through publication. As a result, researchers have become accustomed to readily accessible “big genomics” databases and networks, the products of government-funded partnerships, at a cost no higher than that of connecting to the Internet.

This access principle is at the heart of modern genomics and integrates another scientific convention, namely citation; credit given where it is due. While the human genome is available instantly from a legal and technical perspective, contributor attribution has benefited from practices that protected publication and citation priority inside an open access regime. These behaviors have been largely defined by genome scientists themselves rather than by journals, funders, or regulators.

Creating a common language

Human disease biology, however, has no common languages, no accessible communal repositories and no government, corporate or foundation investment in generating an inclusive resource. Disease biology is characterized by many intelligent academic and commercial researchers in fragmented public and proprietary efforts. As a result, data are often stored as specialized and insulated collections and even when accessible there are barriers to integrating it into complex disease models required to guide research or trials in a meaningful way.

The experimental data underlying disease biology, like the genome itself, needs to be open access because the data is simply the beginning of the process. Data generated by scientists and clinicians on human disease biology should feed and thereby refine a set of models that inform our understanding of disease causality and progression, as well as generate new mechanisms, targets, diagnostics and knowledge. This again recapitulates the genome project that was simply the beginning of a process of gene identification and annotation.

A covergence of contributors

Genomic innovation is enabled at its root by the public domain nature of the raw sequences. Human disease biology is a result of the interplay of regulatory models and the perturbations rather than cumulative linear data arrays. We believe that the best way to evolve necessarily crude initial models is to have them nurtured by a contributor network that will evolve into an engine of human disease model building. Sage Bionetworks and its partners are not government agencies and thus their work does not fall de facto into the public domain or into government-funded databases and repositories.

We have created the Sage Bionetworks to serve as the steward of the data and associated systems. The data will be accessible and usable by scientists worldwide interested in understanding disease because we are placing all the Sage Bionetworks resources into a digital commons.

Legal considerations

The Commons Initiative will be built on standard legal agreements that are easy for scientists, software engineers and lawyers to understand and use. The legal basis of the Initiative is the public domain that we can achieve through simple waivers of database rights. This is the natural legal status of data in the United States and many other jurisdictions. This approach echoes the legal status of the human genome, SNP maps and other “big science” projects with which we expect integration to become desirable--even essential-- over time. By using this approach we limit the scope of integration to being a technical problem.

Our goals

We have two fundamental goals. One is to ensure that the disease models are the best possible and that they are accessible for widespread use and innovation. The Sage Bionetworks Commons is an effective, standardized way to assure that the legal rights required to make this happen are in place.

Our second goal is to establish a pre-competitive position for human disease biology. Human disease biology is so complex, interconnected, and expensive to research that the existing dominant business strategies of building and patenting unique models need to be replaced by a common standard. Like the internet, disease biology models will gain strength by their very nature as public platforms for interoperability and communication--this approach is at the very heart of that strength.

View the Sage Bionetworks Repository


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