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AstraZeneca Invests in Data, Discovery Management


By Allison Proffitt

July 14, 2008 | AstraZeneca Discovery’s ten worldwide sites were drowning in information. Scientists had no way to access relevant data; they didn’t even know whether relevant data existed,  whether a test for a particular activity existed, or if a scientists at another site was currently making and testing similar compounds. The solution was IBIS, a system to standardize screening data globally and make it available to AstraZeneca sites by the end of 2006. It was an ambitious goal, but IBIS has saved over 136,000 man hours per year and earned the company a Best Practices award for Knowledge Management. (see Best Practices )

“I think it’s brought a step change in the way we can work with Discovery, because we’ve been able to deliver a system and a project that our customers have agreed has been a real success,” says Nick Lynch, chemistry domain architect for AstraZeneca and technical architect for the program since its inception in 2002. 

The IBIS team came to include over 80 contributors across AstraZeneca. “It was a joint project really,” says Lynch. “With it being distributed over ten sites we had to work really effectively across multiple time zones and multiple sites.”

IBIS, or International Bioscience Information System, is made up of four key components: IBIS Rules, screening data standards; IBIS Test Service that creates and manages test definitions; IBIS Upload, a diagnostic warehouse of more than 150 million screening results; and IBIS Explore, a state-of-the-art query tool.

IBIS Rules, created and managed by a Curation Group, is the backbone of the program and serves as the global standard specifying terminology, business rules, metadata, and vocabularies. These rules provide the means to communicate and process data across the boundaries of sites, projects, and teams. “People talk about IBIS or the IBIS rules in a very positive way,” says Lynch, “and the discovery scientists’ contribution to the rules and their energy to keep them up to date or to govern them in the right way has really been the success.”

 The IBIS Test Service, Explore, and Upload components are all integrated software components developed by Discovery Information and designed to define, capture, validate, distribute, search, and exploit Discovery project data on a global level. “The majority of the [IBIS] code is code we have written,” Lynch says, though he says the team took advantage of open source where they could and use Spotfire and Oracle solutions.

As is almost always the case, AstraZeneca had to weigh the options between buying and building what they needed. The decision came down to ROI, says Lynch. “We felt that we spent a lot of time on building the rules and building our model, and we looked at the commercial tools and we didn’t feel that they could implement rules in the way that we wanted them... So we decided it was more efficient for us to write it.” Lynch estimates that of the total cost of IBIS implementation, only about a third can be attributed to pure IT costs.

IBIS has been fully operational with legacy systems shut off for about 18 months and since then the software tools have been constantly refined, especially around IBIS Explore, as users work with the system and input their data. Lynch says that he and his team have used the IBIS buzz from the Best Practices award to make the case for securing a capability around IBIS to further develop it.

“We’re intending it to be a foundation for our information management and exploitation for a while,” he says. “IBIS is part about the data and part about the actual tools themselves. The data, we spent a lot of effort getting it in a better shape. That can live on independently from this particular version of the tool; it can evolve and grow as we need to.”  

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This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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