European consortium applies semantic technology to drug discovery
3 June 2011
A new consortium of European organisations is applying
semantic web technology to accelerate drug discovery by providing a
single view across data sources.
The Open PHACTS consortium,
funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative, is creating an Open
Pharmacological Space using the technology.
pharmaceutical companies expend significant and duplicated efforts
aligning and integrating internal information with public data sources.
This process is largely incompatible with massive computational
approaches and the vast majority of drug discovery sources cannot easily
Open PHACTS (the Open Pharmacological Concepts
Triple Store) will deliver a single view across available data
resources, and will be freely available to users.
text, difficult to analyse by computer, will have factual assertions
extracted as semantic triples, allowing for the first time the prospect
of querying textual and database data together to give answers needed to
identify new drug targets and pharmacological interactions.
While the semantic approach has been delivered in small-scale and
targeted approaches so far, its promise for multiscale data
integration has remained largely unfulfilled. Open PHACTS is a major
project including many of the top semantic web experts, committed to
deliver on this promise.
Success of the Open PHACTS project
is likely to increasingly drive researchers around the globe to
capture and distribute data and information in a semantically
interoperable and computer readable format. Recognising that the
power of standards lies in their widespread adoption, the core
information framework is built on the principles of Open Source,
Open Access and Open Data.
Gerhard Ecker, academic
co-ordinator says “The Open PHACTS consortium brings together an
unparalleled range of expertise, and we are committed to building a
sustainable data infrastructure to support drug discovery research.”
Bryn Williams-Jones, project coordinator adds ”Being able to
access available resources from a single system will be a huge
immediate benefit to pharmaceutical companies. Building a framework
that future data can flow into will reduce information management
barriers even further.”
Initial development effort is
focussed on a 6 month prototype using exemplar resources and
technologies to provide a proof of concept. Identification and
prioritisation of research questions will also be one of the first
project milestones, driven by the pharmaceutical companies involved
to deliver real answers relevant to drug discovery.
Experience gained will define further development approaches to
bring together data and classifications from a variety of existing
public resources and other sources from the consortium members. A
major community engagement exercise is part of the project, to
involve data providers, software developers, publishers and
commercial database producers. This will work alongside a
sustainability plan to support the continuation of the Open
Pharmacological Space beyond the period of funding.
Open PHACTS (Open Pharmacological Concepts Triple Store):
About the IMI
The Innovative Medicines
Initiative (IMI) is a unique public-private partnership between the
pharmaceutical industry represented by the European Federation of
Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and the European
Union represented by the European Commission. The total budget of
the project is 16,4 million Euros and it will last for three years.
The EFPIA partners will be providing data, expertise and tools to
the project, while the academic partners are providing development
expertise and skills drawn from academic pharmacological research,
publishing, data handling, and the semantic web. Website: