SIDEBAR: Lessons Learned from caBIG

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3.6.39_masys.jpgThe Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG) is an NCI program that was launched in 2004 in reaction to a “health information tsunami,” said Daniel R. Masys, MD, Chair of the caBIG Oversight Committee and Affiliate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Medical Education, University of Washington, Seattle.

The caBIG program is “predicated on the availability of a nationwide, interoperable, interconnected information technology platform that enables information sharing. It provides free and open access to tools, data, and infrastructure that allow the cancer and greater biomedical research communities to improve their connectivity, collaboration, and interoperability,” said Dr. Masys.

After several years of only modest success, a review committee was established. In March 2011, it concluded that support for informatics tools is even more pressing than originally thought; there is strong support for the original caBIG vision and goals, but the successes were offset by several serious problems; and the overall impact was not commensurate with the $300 million investment.

“caBIG really works,” said Dr. Masys, especially in its development of standards for data exchange and interoperability, development and dissemination of tools by academic researchers, and dialogue on interoperability of clinical and research software.

Committee Recommendations

Nevertheless, the review committee concluded, caBIG put the cart before the horse by using a technology-centric approach to data sharing. Its plans for expansion were unfocused, it was financially unsustainable, and it lacked independent scientific oversight. Therefore, the committee recommended:

  • An immediate moratorium on all internal and commercial software development
  • A 1-year moratorium on new projects and contracts
  • A 1-year extension on current caBIG-supported community-developed software tools
  • Ongoing oversight of planned initiatives and an audit of caBIG budget and expenditures

As a result of these recommendations, funding for caBIG was decreased by about one-third, and future funding remains up in the air. However, said Dr. Masys, “NCI commitment to computational infrastructure for basic, translational, and clinical cancer research remains strong.” ■

Disclosure: Dr. Masys reported no potential conflicts of interest.

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