Driving Discovery Through Data

0 Open Science Prize Identifies Nearly 100 Worldwide Innovative Teams
Elizabeth Kittrie / 03.16.16

by Elizabeth Kittrie, NIH Office of the Associate Director for Data Science and David Carr, Wellcome Trust

The submission period for the Open Science Prize is now closed and we are pleased to share an overview of applications as well as the next steps in this exciting prize competition.

Launched early last year, the Open Science Prize is a unique partnership between the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Wellcome Trust, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute intentionally designed to stimulate the development of technology platforms and tools to make open biomedical data more discoverable, accessible, and useable.  NIH, an operating division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the nation’s public health research agency and largest funder of biomedical research in the country.  The Wellcome Trust, based in the United Kingdom, is an independent global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health.  The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, based in the United States, is a science philanthropy whose mission is to advance biomedical research and science education.

The Open Science Prize competition seeks to promote international collaborations between solvers from the U.S. and abroad and is aimed at the development of novel solutions that can enable researchers, citizen scientists, and the wider public to mine and extract value from the proliferation of open digital objects (datasets, online publications, software code, and other outputs) related to biomedical research.  In an effort to foster solutions crossing international boundaries, the teams are required to include a lead solver from the United States and from at least one other country.

When we announced the Open Science Prize competition last fall, we had no idea what to expect or what kind of response we’d receive.  We are delighted with the response!   In the first round of the competition, we received 96 innovative solutions from teams across the globe.   These teams were composed of over 450 innovators from 45 countries, spanning 5 continents: China, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Malta, Nepal, Nigeria, Romania, Taiwan, Turkey, and Venezuela were just a few of the countries represented.  

The solvers come from many different types of institutions, from the Aga Khan University in Pakistan, to Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, to a small software company in New York.  There were well over a hundred unique companies, non-profits, and research institutions represented as well as several unaffiliated individuals submitting solutions on their own personal initiative.  The team members’ backgrounds also varied widely from a practicing psychologist in Australia, to a Chinese Bioengineering Professor with an interest in international food testing, to a British software developer with a doctorate degree in Paleontology.

One of the key benefits of issuing a prize competition is that it allows the prize sponsor to highlight an opportunity, such as the need for solutions that maximize the re-use of existing digital objects or provide new ways to extract value from already available information sources.  Then, allow for a broad range of solvers to address the problem either in ways the prize sponsor may not have previously thought of or to draw from a pool of solvers that may not have the types of credentials that would identify them as promising candidates for traditional funding mechanisms, such as grants or contracts. 

The foci of the ideas and proposed solutions varied widely and included: 

  • New tools for conducting data analyses through novel forms of visualization and predictive algorithms.
  • New methods for sharing data analyses that capture interactive capabilities and allow collaborators to interact with the results in novel capacities.
  • New ways of merging open digital objects that exist in the public domain, but are not easily accessible through current methods.
  • Toolkits that promote new uses of health data and data sharing in health care settings, such as hospitals.
  • Surveillance tools for tracking issues, such as mental health and emerging infectious diseases.
  • Innovations that bring together and add value to the scientific literature and link papers to other data sources.

Many of these solutions are exciting ideas that can help enhance the efficiency of the research enterprise, reduce redundancy, and enable reproducibility of research results.  The potential public health and medical discovery impacts of many of these solutions could be enormous once fully developed.   You can read the abstracts from all of the entries here.

So, what’s next in the Open Science Prize competition and what can our solvers and the public expect?

During the next three months, a panel of expert science advisors as well as judges from the National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust will be reviewing the solutions for their advancement of open science, impact, innovation, originality, technological viability, and resource feasibility.   Our aim is to select the six most promising ideas from among the 96 submitted solutions.

The Phase I winning teams will be publically announced at the Health Datapalooza on May 9, 2016 in Washington, DC.   This year’s Health Datapalooza, an annual festival celebrating all things data-related, will feature an international track, highlighting new health information technology innovations and uses of data across the globe to improve health and health care.  We are excited to showcase the winning teams and their ideas as part of this international data extravaganza. 

At the end of Phase I, the six winning teams will each be given $80,000 and nine months to develop their ideas into prototypes.  In early December, we will invite these teams to the National Institutes of Health to showcase their prototypes as we kick off Phase II of the competition.  At that time, we will also invite the public to participate in worldwide public voting to select the three most promising prototypes.   The community’s input will provide important feedback to the selection committee.   

By no later than February 28, 2017, we will announce the ultimate winner of the Open Science Prize.  One lucky team will win $230,000 to take their prototype forward.

We are pleased and delighted at the response to this first-ever Open Science Prize competition.  We are looking forward to working with our partners to further support open science and to build upon the success of this endeavor.

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