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Best Practices: Gloom and Doom Antidote

By John Russell

June 10, 2008 | After a two-year hiatus, Bio-IT World again conducted its Best Practices Awards program, culminating in a dinner and awards ceremony last month. The pause in the program was necessary while Bio-IT World was being integrated into its new parent organization, Cambridge Healthtech Institute (CHI).

For those of us involved, the Best Practices program is one of the most interesting and rewarding activities that Bio-IT World undertakes. It's a fascinating opportunity to identify and spotlight concrete projects that demonstrate how technology can improve drug development. No less important is the opportunity to foster the sharing of ideas within an industry known more secretiveness than forthrightness.

It was gratifying to discover the appetite for a Best Practices showcase is stronger than ever. This year, the program attracted a record 53 entries (thanks to all!), and our awards dinner-held this year in conjunction with Bio-IT World Conference and Expo in Boston-drew more than 200, also a record. I should note two sponsors Microsoft and Blue Arc were instrumental in helping reenergize the Best Practices program (thank you!).

Bio-IT World will publish a full account of the program and profile the 2008 winners in the July issue (See Box). There are lessons for all in the projects they undertook.

They say timing is everything, and at this year's Best Practices dinner, the three main speakers independently chose to talk about how "predictive" technologies are coming of age. In a real sense, this unplanned theme reflects important changes that have been occurring in biomedical research since last Best Practice awards dinner in 2005. The speaker trio included Phillips Kuhl, president of CHI; Colin Hill, founder and chairman of Gene Network Sciences; and Dietrich Stephan, co-founder and CSO, Navigenics, who incidentally won a Best Practice Award in 2005 for work done at TGEN.

In his opening comments, Kuhl suggested that the time was ripe for biopharma to wean itself from endless "trial and error and error" and increasingly emphasize what he called "predictiveness." Indeed, he believes Bio-IT World's mission may be too narrowly focused. He argued that Bio-IT World magazine and its media portfolio (Cambridge Healthtech Media Group) should actively position itself as the champion of "predictiveness" and its various enabling technologies. He is the boss, so stay tuned.

Hill contended the industry was at the tipping point for achieving data-driven, computational discovery of key gene networks from SNP and clinical data. He cited recent work at Merck and back-to-back Nature papers describing efforts in which Rosetta (a Merck division) used computational techniques to reverse engineer critical gene networks involved in obesity and diabetes. He said 50 percent of Merck's pipeline in those areas stemmed from that work. (See p. 20).

Stephan was next up. His company is pioneering personal genomics (See "Gore at Navigenics Launch," Bio-IT World, May 2008). Stephan argued the declining cost of DNA sequencing and advancing software will very soon make genotyping widely accessible. It will be possible to "push a button and get a rank-ordered list" of disease and health predispositions, he said. Prevention, based on understanding these predilections, will eventually transform health care.

This was all good stuff, though their thoughts on timing may be optimistic. Clearly something new is happening, or rather, the technologies that have been bubbling since the completion of the human genome project are now maturing.

What's your prediction? Write to me at



2008 Bio-IT World Best Practice Winners

•           Basic Research, R&D:  Christian-Albrechts-University and Applied Biosystems, for developing a pipeline to use for the identification of common susceptibility variants of functional significance for complex diseases, notably Crohn's disease.

•           Clinical Research:  Eli Lilly & Company, for managing and tracking metrics associated with implementing the SAS Drug Development solution and partnership.

•           Clinical Trials:  GlaxoSmithKline, for developing a novel industry capability which enables robust and efficient safety signal detection in clinical trials.

•           Drug Discovery & Development:  Genstruct and Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, for developing a Casual Network Modeling (CNM) system-a powerful approach to modeling complex biological systems to characterize the molecular MOA of a revolutionary set of bioactive, Sirt1-activating small molecules.

•           IT Informatics:  AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, for implementing the FDA's electronic submissions gateway with SAFE digital signatures.

•             Knowledge Management:  AstraZeneca Discovery, for standardizing screening data globally and making it available to all AstraZeneca sites.

•             Translational and Personalized Medicine:  Merck & Company, for breaking down clinical and research silos that allowed them to view the Biomarker Information Pipeline with the Moffitt Cancer Center.

•              Editor's Choice: National Cancer Institute for caBIG--the Cancer Bioinformatics Grid--a tool that connects the cancer community through a shareable, interoperable infrastructure.


This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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