24th April 2018
Hotel Renaissance
Rue du Parnasse 19, 1050 Bruxelles

Frontiers hosted their second Annual Data Services Workshop this week in Brussels. The aim of the event was to discuss and share the developments and success stories in the sphere of big data technologies and artificial intelligence (AI). The event was designed to tie these developments with health research and to also discuss policy challenges. Of course, the financial challenges were also noted during event, as well as the time lag of the innovation or research reaching the public sphere.

The first session focused on breakthroughs in data-intensive health research


Paolo Vineis (professor of Environmental Epidemiology, Imperial College London) spoke on the topic on integrating omic technologies into public health research. The causality in non-communicable diseases (such as cancer) is usually a network, meaning several factors are causing the disease. Omic technologies are looking at the link of the cause and the disease by researching the middle of this process.

The day’s most interesting talk was given by Lee Wen Hwa (the director of Disease Foundations Network, Strategic Alliances, Structural Genomics Consortium) on the topic of „Open drug discovery“. Lee promoted Radical Open Science where the research is open, shared (data alongside the notes of the researcher) and there is a public-private partnership in action.
Their success stories included focusing on the research of a rare disease (incidence is about 0.5 in mln) (see the link to Wikipedia article of the disease referred to here). They were able to speed up the process of the research and reach the clinical trial stages in less than 3 years utilizing the open source tools. What makes this so unique is that there is no financial incentive for working on these super rare diseases and traditionally this process would take somewhere between 7 to 30 years. They were able to achieve such results as they are not focusing on patenting their research. Also, they have big pharma partners who support their cause as the partners in big pharam recognized that the open domain is able to produce something great.

Michael Rebhan (Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research) spoke of the need to integrate new processes into the health research, such as utilizing agile methods (minimum viable product) to speed up the process of the research and innovation reaching the public sphere. He believes data science is the glue between different spheres, from math to economics, humanities, and of course, medicine. The problem lies in the fact research is often in data silos. He believes that research happens when the data is open, but we also have the tools to utilize it.
He also noted the key hurdles when implementing Open Research Data is related to the metrics and goals the policy makers come up with as often times the policy makers do not understand what the researchers do. He emphasized the need for transparency, dissemination and speed.


The second session focused on the data sharing solutions


Samuel Kerrien from Blue Brain Project spoke on the topic FAIR data and knowledge management. He introduced the Blue Brain Project which has developed a knowledge graph – an open data platform. The aim is to produce metadata which is understandable to both humans and computers alike.

Mattia Albergante from Frontiers gave a presentation on Artificial Intelligence in open access publishing. He spoke how they are utilizing it by teaching AI to understand the text itself and also to link texts better by using key words relevant to the context.

Christine Durinx (Associate Director, Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics) spoke about Data infrastructure and the discussed on what are the features of a good database. The need to distinguish the features of essential databases and also sustainability of the databases, i.e finances needed to maintain them operational.

Ian Potter (Clarivate Analytics) spoke on the topic of „Research data and knowledge management“ and shared the details of their platform operates.

Lucas Anastasiou (Knowledge Media Institute, KMI) discussed the topic of text and data mining.


The third session was a panel session focusing on overcoming the challenges in the EU policy, regulation and on the institutional level



The opening keynote speech was made by Cornelius Schmaltz (Head of Unit for Strategy, European Commission, DG Research and Innovation). He gave a brief overview of H2020 and the grant agreements. He also noted that researchers receiving EU funding under H2020 also had the option to opt out of dissemination and publication of the results if a valid reason was given or there was simply no data produced.

Saila Rinne, (Programme Officer at DG CONNECT) emphasized that the openness and impact aspects of H2020 will most likely be a part of FP9 as well. She also raised the question of how to share „rich“ connected datasets in a GDPR compliant manner (the main change in EU data protection being implemented soon). Another key question is how to anonymize data while also keeping is accessible to re-analysis in further research. She also announced that 48 mln euro will be available soon to develop GDPR compliant platforms for data (both closed and open).

Stephan Kuster (Secretary General, Science Europe) spoke on the topic of “Public research funders & performers”. He spoke of Data Management principles.

Jeannette Frey (Director BCU Lausanne, Vice-President LIBER) spoke about Research libraries and how they are digitizing content.

Eva Mendez (Young European Research Universities (YERUN), OSPP) spoke about Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP). Eva believed that excellent science should be open science. However, in business this is seen as somewhat of a hippie approach. Also, when students are going after tenure are focused on keeping their research secret. To which Tamás Bereczky, who was representing patient groups, made a good point with “I don’t care about your career track, or tenure. If I am sick, or my child is sick I want the help now”. This statement resonated well with most of everybody in the room.
Eva also made a point that the European Open Research Cloud is a great idea but not tangible. It should have the same working principles as Whatsapp- easy to use, affordable and in our pockets (easily accessible).

Tamás Bereczky (Coordinator EUPATI Germany, Patient Cluster lead IMI Big Data Project Harmony) has been an advocate for patient rights for decades. He shared the work of EUPATI in empowering and educating patients. He also elaborated on how patient organizations were taking more of a prominent role in health research.
Tamás drew attention to the biggest disconnect between science and real life- the time span in which the innovation reaches the public sphere is long while good research is already out there but not publicised or utilized. There is the huge gap between real-life needs of patients vs the need of science, or even business.


Read more about the event from Frontiers blog post here



EFMC – European Fund Management Consulting
Kristiina Kook
PR and Events Coordinator