Free Access to Chemical Information

In the latest effort to provide free access to chemical information, the London based company SureChem (owned by Digital Science a sister company to Nature Publishing Group) said that it has released data on 10 million molecules patented by the pharmaceutical industry since 1976.

Harvested automatically from some 20 million patents, the data could lower barriers to drug discovery by academic researchers.

The announcement made on 26 March 2012 at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society ACS in San Diego California follows a similar move by computing giant IBM last December. IBM deposited computer-harvested data on about 2.4 million small molecules into PubChem the world’s largest free chemistry repository, which is run by the US National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. Both data releases serve in part to promote the companies subscription services for patent and structure analysis. But Michael Walters, a chemist working in academic drug discovery at the Univ of Minnesota in Minneapolis, thinks that the initiatives could mark a sea change in the way in which patent data are accessed and analyzed.

Academic drug discovery will get another boost in Sept when a consortium of eight pharmaceutical firms three biotechnology companies and a number of leading informaticians releases its own free online drug discovery platform, the Open Pharmacological Concepts Triple Store (openPHACTS) data on small molecules and their biological effects, to provide a library  of compounds that anyone can download and explore

Unlike biologists who are swamped by free databases on genes and proteins, chemists have always expected to pay for their data. Until a few years ago the market in chemical information was monopolized by ACS Chemical Abstracts Service a manually curated registry that now holds more than 65 million structures, charges individual users thousands of dollars a year for access and does not allow large downloads or repurposing of its information. Its SciFinder service offers tools to make sense of the data. Similar analytical services are sold by firms such as IBM, Thomson Reuters and Elsevier in Amsterdam, which offers the Reaxys tool (see Chemistry breaks free).

But in 2004 the Us National Inst. of Health NIH created PubChem into which anyone can deposit data on structures and their biological activity. In 2005 the ACS sought to restrict PubChem’s reach to molecules characterized by NIH funded researchers, but was unsuccessful….(Source: Nature, March2012)

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