2015 Bio-IT World Best Practices Awards Winners Announced

April 22, 2015

By Bio-IT World Staff 

April 22, 2015 | Bio-IT World held an awards ceremony this morning at the 2015 Bio-IT World Conference & Expo in Boston, announcing the winners of its eleventh annual Best Practices Awards competition.

Five teams, from Biogen; the University of California, Santa Cruz; the European Lead Factory; UCB BioPharma; and GlaxoSmithKline, were named grand prize winners in five categories, representing innovations in basic research and drug discovery, clinical and translational research, information technology systems, informatics, and the construction and management of large knowledge bases.

Two special prizes were also given to recognize additional standout entries. The Judges’ Prize was awarded to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and the Editors’ Choice Award was presented to the National Institutes of Health Undiagnosed Diseases Program.

“We are delighted to once again see such exceptional projects entered in this year’s competition,” said Allison Proffitt, editor of Bio-IT World. “The use of information technology has the potential to reinvigorate the life sciences in so many ways, and the winners of this year’s awards have shown creativity and initiative in applying these tools to problems large and small.”

Bio-IT World debuted the Best Practices Awards in 2003, hoping to not only elevate the critical role of information technology in modern biomedical research, but also to highlight platforms and strategies that could be widely shared across the industry to improve the quality, pace, and reach of science. In the years since, hundreds of projects have been entered in the annual competition, and over 80 prizes have been given out to the most outstanding entries. This year, a panel of ten invited expert judges joined the Bio-IT World editors in reviewing 33 detailed submissions, including entries from pharmaceutical companies, academic centers, government agencies, and technology providers. 

The awards ceremony was held at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, where the winning teams received their prizes from Proffitt, industry consultant and awards judge Joseph Cerro, and Philips Kuhl, president of conference organizer Cambridge Healthtech Institute.

The grand prize trophies were presented to the following organizations in these categories:

Informatics: Biogen 

Augmenting the Reality of Scientific Posters 

An internal hackathon at Biogen produced this idea to increase the value of scientific posters by adding augmented reality elements, accessible through smart phones and tablets. Posters have long been an important first introduction to new research at scientific events, but can only share limited information; adding QR codes to posters allowed Biogen to incorporate large amounts of supporting data, as well as new features like 3D visualizations and interactive chemical structures. In an age of ubiquitous smart phones and ever more complex scientific data, this clever entry had the judges wondering why no one had thought of it sooner.


IT Infrastructure: University of California, Santa Cruz 

CGHub Architecture and API 

UC Santa Cruz is responsible for maintaining CGHub, a portal where researchers can access data on cancer genomics from multiple large-scale projects, including The Cancer Genome Atlas and the Cancer Genome Characterization Initiative. This portal comes with not only massive data demands, but also sensitive requirements to maintain the security and privacy of patient data. Working with technology provider Annai Systems, UCSC built a sophisticated software platform that could handle highly efficient bulk data transfers while working within the permissions system set up by the National Institutes of Health to make sure users are authenticated and authorized to see the data they request.


Knowledge Management: European Lead Factory 


The European Lead Factory is an international consortium of pharmaceutical companies and academic partners with the goal of sharing hundreds of thousands of compounds for early hit-to-screen programs. While pharma companies maintain massive libraries of chemical compounds, which could be leveraged in the early stages of new drug discovery projects across the industry, sharing them with competitors has traditionally been a non-starter. To protect the commercial interests of all members, the European Lead Factory developed ScienceCloud, a platform where members can anonymize both their compounds, and the assays they develop to test those compounds on new targets. Only the most qualified lead compounds are ever disclosed to the screener. As a result, it is now possible to find a hit with a competitor’s compound in your own assay, without letting on what target you are pursuing — a capability that led the judges to pronounce ScienceCloud the only platform in its class.


Research & Drug Discovery: UCB BioPharma 

Automated Accelerometric Detection of Epileptic Seizures in Rodents 

In its in vivo models of epilepsy, UCB faced a problem common to researchers developing treatments for neurological disorders: the measurement of symptoms was imprecise, inconsistent, and could be far removed from real world conditions. To improve its ability to create accurate rodent models for epilepsy, UCB implemented a system called AccelEpi, which combined accelerometer data and video streams to automatically capture seizure events in rodents over extended periods of time. The project is a sterling example of how IT innovations can free researchers to do better science in the lab — in this case, by allowing UCB to transition from measuring its drug candidates by their ability to fight induced seizures, to monitoring how those drug candidates reduce the rate of natural seizures in more true-to-life conditions.


Clinical & Health IT: GlaxoSmithKline 

Project CRAWL 

Recognizing the value of social media in alerting pharma companies to adverse events, GlaxoSmithKline worked with software company Epidemico to create a system for mining unstructured data from Facebook and Twitter posts, searching for early warning signs of unexpected side effects of treatment. The result, Project CRAWL, was an important early step toward proactively searching for drug safety signals, and could be extended to other areas of real-world post-market surveillance.


Judges’ Prize: Michael J. Fox Foundation 

tranSMART for Parkinson’s Disease Research 

As the world’s leading non-profit supporting research into the causes and treatment of Parkinson’s disease, the Michael J. Fox Foundation has collected enormous stores of data on biomarkers, medications and symptoms, as well as a significant patient registry. The Foundation has now used the tranSMART platform to integrate this data in a single portal, easily connect it with proprietary data from pharmaceutical companies’ clinical trials, and allow the results of research to be shared and, where possible, made open to the public. The judges considered this system a model for other organizations focused on specific diseases.


Editors’ Choice Award: National Institutes of Health Undiagnosed Diseases Program 

Undiagnosed Diseases Program Integrated Collaboration System 

Researchers in the field of rare genetic disease need to be able to connect their seemingly unique cases with undiagnosed patients across the globe. To aid in this monumental task, the NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Program developed UDPICS, which includes a database of patient and biological information, an analytics environment, and electronic notebooks for recording researchers’ work. Important quality control measures like a universal vocabulary for describing symptoms and phenotypes ensure that UDPICS can be used to faithfully compare cases submitted from separate institutions, making this resource, in the words of the judges, “orders of magnitude more valuable” than a single genome.


More from the Bio-IT World Conference: 

Owen White Receives 2015 Benjamin Franklin Award at Bio-IT World Conference 

Chris Sander at Bio-IT World 

Bio-IT World Recognizes 2015 Best of Show Winners 

Industry Experts on Designing Research Platforms to Serve Patient Participants