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COSMIC to Implement Commercial Licensing Option to Support Resource Expansion Plans

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The team of researchers responsible for developing and maintaining the Catalogue of Somatic Mutations in Cancer (COSMIC) has announced plans to introduce a new licensing strategy for commercial users of the resource effective March 2015.

According to the resource's site, the developers will charge for-profit organizations an annual fee to download COSMIC content that will vary depending on the organization's size and manner of using the resource. Organizations may also incur additional fees if they want distribution rights to use the database as part of a product. The commercial licensing agreement will also include a range of custom analysis and visualization services that could include things like literature curation of bespoke targets, integrated analytics that combine information from other resources, and more. The fees will be waived for members of industry that engage in collaborative projects with the COSMIC team.

Access to the content via the COSMIC website will be free for all users, although commercial groups will have to pay to download the data. According to the COSMIC site, "the website visualizes a set of high-value information, providing a pre-defined series of analytical tools" whereas "the download files include more extensive annotations across all datasets, available for exploration in any custom analysis."

Meanwhile, members of the academic and non-profit research community will continue to be able to download datasets from the resource for free. However, they will have to agree to academic use license terms set by the team which include provisions that prevent redistribution of the database.

In an email sent out last week informing the research community of the planned change, the COSMIC development team said that the decision to implement a paid commercial licensing scheme is not the result of losing funding from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which has provided the core funding for COSMIC for the past 12 years. With the additional revenue, "we aim to enhance our coverage of mutations in cancer, and invest in bioinformatic tool development to transform COSMIC's vast quantities of data into life-saving insight," the researchers wrote.

The COSMIC team began discussing the possibility of a commercial license over a year ago as it mulled future directions for the resource, Simon Forbes, a senior scientist at the Sanger Institute and a member of the development team, told GenomeWeb. At the time, it was apparent that the increasing amount of cancer mutation information being published "was far outstripping our capacity to curate it," he said in an email. And that developing the best resource possible moving forward would require "substantial growth to our curation, visualization, and scientific staff."

The added human and financial resources, he said, would support plans to provide enhanced curation of all point mutations described in human cancer; curate greater coverage of fusion genes, especially in blood cancer; and annotate the database with both expert curation and algorithmic interpretation to determine which mutations are driving cancer, with a particular emphasis on diagnostic and pharmaceutical targets.

Other planned improvements include providing descriptions of peptide context and gene pathways that are affected by somatic mutations; and providing improved visualizations and analytics that support integrated investigations across the many data types including point mutations, genomic breakpoints, expression, copy number, and methylation.

Those are just some of the development ideas that the team has in mind for COSMIC, Forbes said. In terms of which specific ones the group will likely tackle first "at this stage, we can't be fully prescriptive because precise developments will depend on further discussions with our user communities, although we do anticipate that these developments funded by collaborative and license payments will be released to all academic and commercial users via the usual COSMIC systems," he said.  But ultimately, "the outcome for scientists will be a more comprehensive system, with a clearer emphasis toward supporting research across cancer therapeutics."

In defining the commercial licensing structure, "we spent several months talking with pharma and diagnostics companies about our plans across industrial collaboration, services and licensing," Forbes said. The COSMIC team has cultivated focused collaborations with pharmaceutical companies such as Bayer, Cancer Research Technology, and AstraZeneca, he said, and those interactions had suggested some "interesting new directions" for engaging industry to help make the proposed improvements to the resource possible and also to support its long-term growth and sustainability.

"After we had discussed what we hope to achieve with an expanded team of curators and scientists, along with an improved focus on dialogue with industry, we received a lot of support" from industry, he told GenomeWeb. In addition to providing valuable feedback on what the proposed licensing scheme should look like, "it's been remarkably positive engaging with a wider group than perhaps is traditional in academia, and is giving us new ideas on where we can be more helpful practically as well as scientifically," he added.

To ensure that the licensing costs don't become a barrier for firms seeking to use COSMIC in their research and publications, "instead of setting a single fee we've defined a scale of fees," he said, that will hopefully encourage "larger companies to engage collaboratively toward influencing our direction, whilst minimizing the license fee to small new enterprises." The precise amount of those fees is still being determined.

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