Shooting for the Moon and Beyond with Translational Research

Integrating experimental and clinical data from proprietary private and public databases to accelerate research discoveries should be commonplace. During his 2016 State of the Union Address, President Obama took a crucial first step in making this a reality in the battle against cancer, calling on Vice President Biden to lead a national Moonshot initiative to accelerate research in this field. In June, the vice president took action, announcing a first-of-its kind, open-access cancer database. Dubbed the Genomic Data Commons (GDC), the new database is intended to provide the cancer research community with a unified repository to share information across cancer genomic studies in support of precision medicine.


What is the GDC?

The GDC contains the raw genomic and clinical data for 12,000 patients. In the future, Vice President Biden envisions that the open database will include detailed analyses from the research community of the molecular makeup of cancers, information on which treatments were used for specific types of cancer and how patients respond to those treatments. In addition, the GDC will consolidate the National Cancer Institute’s diverse datasets of genomic sequences and analyses of tumors. The main objective of all of this is to consolidate the data for open consumption to speed research, and eliminating time spent by researchers on similar projects that have already been conducted by others.  


Historically, public data sets like The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and the 1000 Genome Projects have helped the scientific community advance their understanding of complex diseases like cancer. In our view, the GDC is the latest step in advancing the scientific community’s knowledge in this area, and is a positive step in the right direction.


The Challenges

That said, there can be challenges with systems like GDC. These include:

·         Availability: The availability of data and the willingness and ability of researchers to share their data. Some companies may not want to share proprietary information about their genomic trials.

·         Consent and legal issues: In many cases, patient consent may not allow for the publication of this data.

·         Scope: While genomics is an important piece of translational medicine, there are many other profiling technologies not supported by the GDC.

·         Access controls: The GDC is designed to be an open platform and has little focus on restrictions. While it makes sense for sharing public data, access controls are an important and difficult part of a commercial solution dealing with clinical data.



We also see a future where additional collaboration could occur with complementary systems offered by private companies to overcome the challenges listed above. For example, our cloud-based data management, aggregation and analysis platform for pharmaceutical researchers, Signals for Translational, helps integrate experimental and clinical research data from many sources and assay platforms. This not only includes genomic data, but also proteomics, metabolomics and imaging. A platform like Signals can integrate proprietary in-house data that researchers may not be willing to share with the public data available from the GDC.  


Beyond Moonshot

Seamlessly integrating data visualization, exploration and analytics capabilities with data management enables a highly interactive hypothesis-driven analysis workflow. With these capabilities, researchers can easily complete orders of magnitude more efficiently than with the traditional workflow.  We must be able to integrate experimental and clinical data from existing proprietary, private and public databases to research in order to support greater collaboration and help scientists to increase the speed and efficiency of developing targeted drugs - not only for cancer but across all therapeutic areas of translational research.