The Interoperable Informatics Infrastructure Consortium held its first official board meeting Monday, March 11, at the Boston headquarters of Millennium Pharmaceuticals, where it elected board officers and finalized the organization’s by-laws and dues structure.
The group, which had its beginnings over a year ago as a loose confederation of IT vendors and bioinformatics firms developing common protocols and interoperable technologies for the life science community, was officially incorporated on February 13, 2002.
The formal status of the I3C is a critical step for the organization, which has piqued the interest of the life sciences IT community over the last year, but has so far been unable to sign on members or collect dues because of its informal nature. Furthermore, dealings with existing standards bodies, such as the Object Management Group’s life science research domain task force, had been put on hold until the I3C emerged as a formal entity.
The I3C’s founding members include the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Whitehead Institute, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, IBM, and Sun Microsystems. Tim Clark, vice president of informatics for Millennium Pharmaceuticals, was elected to chair the organization and Jill Mesirov, CIO and director of bioinformatics and computational biology at the Whitehead Institute Center for Genome Research, was elected vice-chair. Other I3C board members include Morrie Ruffin, vice president of business development at BIO; Jeff Augen, director of business strategy for life sciences at IBM; and Sia Zadeh, group marketing manager of life sciences at Sun.
Sia Zadeh told BioInform that the I3C board defined two initial activities: finding an executive director to handle the day-to-day administrative operations of the group, and searching for a suitable site to serve as I3C headquarters. Zadeh said several candidates are being considered for the executive director role, a position that will require a unique combination of IT and life sciences domain knowledge as well as substantial project management experience.
In terms of site location, Zadeh said that several regional informatics groups and universities have submitted proposals to host the I3C and a decision should be made in several weeks. “We’re looking at regions where there’s the most activity in this area,” Zadeh said, with the obvious biotech hotbeds of Boston and San Francisco among the most likely candidates.
The board settled on a four-tier dues structure to encompass the broad range of its potential members: Academic and non-profit groups may join for a $1,000 annual fee; companies with annual revenue of $10 million or less can join for $5,000 per year; companies with annual revenue of over $10 million pay $25,000; and sustaining members — Sun, IBM, and Millennium so far — contribute $50,000. Zadeh noted that all members, no matter what they pay, receive the same benefits and are encouraged to play an active role in the I3C working groups.
While members will play an active role in building the framework for interoperability that the I3C envisions, non-members will also be encouraged to play a part, said Zadeh, who stressed that the I3C by-laws ensure that the framework-in-progress remains publicly available. As long as non-members comply with these IP guidelines, Zadeh said they are welcome to submit proposals for consideration. In addition, all specifications under consideration by the I3C will be posted for public review and comment before the group recommends adoption.
This guarantee of an open architecture was the primary reason it took a full year for the I3C to settle upon its by-laws, which had to be cleared by the IP lawyers of the various entities involved [BioInform 12-17-01]. “It took a lot of attorneys to make that possible,” said Zadeh, who added that it was time well spent because it should eliminate any doubts potential members may have about signing on. Zadeh said the I3C’s membership guidelines, by-laws, IP policy, and other relevant information would be posted on www.i3c.org, but at press time this information was not yet available at the site.
While the IP review process took longer than expected and did set the group back a bit, Zadeh said that very little momentum has been lost. “The interest level is still there,” he said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t get a call from someone asking what’s going on with the I3C.” In addition, the I3C’s architecture working group has been diligently plugging away for the past year, and was able to present a fairly well established roadmap at the O’Reilly Bioinformatics Technology Conference at the end of January.
Now it’s time to build up the group’s membership base and get to work. Over 100 organizations have expressed interest in joining so far, and Zadeh said the I3C will be contacting these groups as well as others as part of an active membership drive. While none of these potential members represents top-tier pharmaceutical companies yet, Zadeh said membership from these firms would be necessary to build a usable framework for interoperability. Now that the I3C’s IP issues have been resolved and it can be recognized as a formal entity, Zadeh said he’s hopeful that pharma will play a larger role in the group’s activities going forward.