Open Science in Cross-Sector Partnerships: The Structural Genomics Consortium
Nov. 14, 2023—Founded in 2003 with just two main laboratories, the Structural Genomics Consortium has laboratories at six different universities, including UIDP members Karolinska Institutet, University College London, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and the University of Toronto, and collaborates with dozens of industry partners (like UIDP members Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, GSK, Merck, Novartis, and Pfizer). More than $400 million in early-stage R&D projects and 350-plus collaborations and partnerships can be tied to the consortium’s work.
The SGC started small, but success invites success. For 20 years, it has stood as a model for the power of open science and collaborative scientific advancement, uncovering and illuminating the functions of proteins in the human genome while sharing discoveries publicly.
The SGC is renowned for its research on human proteins. SGC researchers have determined the structure of thousands and invented and disseminated chemical probes to seed new drug discovery programs. In the coming years, the SGC is focusing on the goals of Target 2035, a global open science movement aiming to produce tools to modulate every protein in the human proteome by 2035.
The SGC and Target 2035 use open science practices to foster collaboration between researchers globally, releasing research into the public domain without any restrictions on use. The SGC also points to the type of research conducted as a reason why it should be public; the structures of human proteins are part of the information that defines what it is to be human and should be accessible to all humans. This allows scientists across the globe to leverage data freely to bring life-saving drugs to market faster.
Just because research results are put into the public domain doesn’t mean there are no benefits to being part of the SGC. Consortium members gain the right to nominate proteins for structural determination, work on joint chemical probe projects, nominate members to committees and the board of directors, and put scientists to work in SGC laboratories. Members can shape the research agenda by prioritizing research directions and actively partnering to achieve them.
Open science: policies and practices that enable the public dissemination of and access to research and research outcomes, including publications, data, and software.
Open science in action
Open science is gaining momentum across the nation. Last year, the White House Office of Science & Technology published a memorandum directing federal agencies to develop policies that provide public access to federally funded research. The idea is to remove barriers to scientific findings and encourage more discovery and innovation in the United States. Often, open science has been used in areas like computer science, but the SCG shows that areas like the life sciences can also benefit from these policies. In particular, this approach can build momentum for tackling large-scale projects, like the development of 5G technology or advancing pharmaceutical research—areas where pooling collective knowledge, data, and resources can lead to breakthroughs that would have otherwise been out of reach.
However, these benefits can come with increasing complexity, as open access discussions often raise questions about intellectual property and commercial competitiveness. Nonetheless, as successes like the SGC continue to come to light, we may see more examples of cross-sector partnerships that benefit all investors while making research findings public to enable discovery everywhere. To see more about open science policies and their implications for university-industry partnerships, see this 3-Minute Read.
Why it matters
At first glance, a generous open science model–like the one the SGC employs–may seem counterintuitive. Why would a company invest resources only to have the findings available for anyone to use? The answer lies in the bigger picture. SGC’s open science model fosters a collaborative spirit among partners and, more broadly, with researchers worldwide who leverage the work. As more consortia adopt open science models, we all reap the benefits of more accessible science and increased discovery.
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