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Open Source as a valuable model for drug research? Why technology and a new mindset could foster acc

NIH Launches Big Data Analytics Portal for Alzheimer’s Research

The National Institutes of Health, the FDA, and a consortium of other public and private healthcare partners have announced the launch of a new big data analytics project focused on expanding access to research data on Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The portal, part of the NIH’s Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP), hopes to harness the growing impact of big data analytics to develop new targeted treatments and better predict the development and course of the common disease in patients.

“We are determined to reduce the cost and time it takes to discover viable therapeutic targets and bring new diagnostics and effective therapies to people with Alzheimer’s. That demands a new way of doing business,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “The AD initiative of AMP is one way we can revolutionize Alzheimer’s research and drug development by applying the principles of open science to the use and analysis of large and complex human data sets.”

Alzheimer’s disease is one of three targets for the Accelerating Medicines Partnership, which brings together the NIH, FDA, a number of prominent pharmaceutical companies, and 12 non-profit advocacy organizations to collaborate on research for the degenerative neurological condition as well as type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. A total of $229 million has been allotted for five years of research, with $129.5 million of that funding dedicated to Alzheimer’s research.

The grants will help academic researchers from a variety of notable institutions generate big data sets including molecular and clinical data from more than 2000 postmortem brain samples. All data produced by the project will be open and available to the public in an effort to ensure transparency, foster a community of collaborative research, and generate the best possible insights. The project aligns with other precision medicine projects championed by the NIH and its partners.

“The era of Big Data and open science can be a game-changer in our ability to choose therapeutic targets for Alzheimer’s that may lead to effective therapies tailored to diverse patients,” said Suzana Petanceska, PhD, the National Institute on Aging program director who is leading the AMP-AD Target Discovery Project. “Simply stated, we can work more effectively together than separately.”

“The enormous complexity of the human brain and the processes involved in development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease have been major barriers to drug development,” added NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, MD. The process of developing, testing, and approving a successful new pharmaceutical treatment can often take more than ten years and cost in excess of $1 billion, which has left researchers and pharmaceutical companies seeking more targeted approaches to identifying potentially fruitful opportunities.

In an era of big data analytics, where data sets are so vast and dense that they may require computing power far beyond the capabilities of any single institution, some pharmaceutical developers, like those involved in this project, are realizing that they must open their data doors and cooperate with their peers if they wish to cut down on costly and time-consuming development cycles.

“Now that we are gathering the data and developing the tools needed to tackle this complexity, it is key to make them widely accessible to the research community so we can speed up the development of critically needed therapies,” Hodes added.

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