Lowering industry firewalls: pre-competitive informatics initiatives in drug discovery


Pharmaceutical research and development is facing substantial challenges that have prompted the industry to shift funding from early- to late-stage projects. Among the effects is a major change in the attitude of many companies to their internal bioinformatics resources: the focus has moved from the vigorous pursuit of intellectual property towards exploration of pre-competitive cross-industry collaborations and engagement with the public domain. High-quality, open and accessible data are the foundation of pre-competitive research, and strong public–private partnerships have considerable potential to enhance public data resources, which would benefit everyone engaged in drug discovery. In this article, we discuss the background to these changes and propose new areas of collaboration in computational biology and chemistry between the public domain and the pharmaceutical industry.

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Figure 1: Building infrastructure and tools for drug discovery by public–private partnership.


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We thank members of the computational biology and computational chemistry and informatics groups within our companies. We also acknowledge partners at the EBI Industry forum for discussions that have contributed to our review of this area. We are grateful to Arricka Brouwer and the reviewers for suggestions as to how to improve the manuscript.

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Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Michael R. Barnes or Ian Dix or Bryn I. Williams-Jones.

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Competing interests

M.R.B., S.M.F. and M.D.H. are employees of GlaxoSmithKline. L.H., C.B. and B.W.J. are employees of Pfizer. S.T. and I.D. are employees of AstraZeneca.

Related links

Related links


Biomedical Informatics Research Network

dbGaP datatbase

Diabetes Genetics Initiative


Druggable Genome database

EBI industry programme

Elixir consortium

Ensembl API

Entrez Programming Utilities

Galaxy toolkit

Gene Expression Omnibus

Gene Ontology

Human Proteomics Organization Proteomics Standards Initiative

Innovative Medicines Initiative


Life Science Grid

Microarray and Gene Expression Data Society

Molecular Library Screening Center Network



Predictive Safety Testing Consortium



Semantic Web Health Care and Life Science Interest Group

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Barnes, M., Harland, L., Foord, S. et al. Lowering industry firewalls: pre-competitive informatics initiatives in drug discovery. Nat Rev Drug Discov 8, 701–708 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrd2944

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