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Sick Kids Drops Suit against GDB Researchers; Cuticchia Says New Database Project on the Way

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At least part of an ugly dispute that began in October over ownership of the GDB Human Genome Database has been resolved.

Two weeks ago, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and Johns Hopkins University dropped their lawsuit against GDB Human Genome Database Ltd., an organization founded by several researchers who maintained the database, including former HSC employees Jamie Cuticchia, Gregg Silk, and Chris Porter, and Johns Hopkins scientist Conover Talbot.

Under dispute was the possession of the domain name gdb.org, which had been transferred from HSC to GDB Human Genome Database Ltd., a non-profit that planned to charge commercial users for access to the site while retaining free access to academic users. Cuticchia claimed that the non-profit was created solely to support continued development of the database. The hospital, however, charged the non-profit with “working to commercialize an asset that the hospital owns without any involvement from the hospital,” said HSC spokeswoman Cyndy DeGiusti in November.

As for the nonprofit status of GDB Human Genome Database Ltd., DeGiusti said earlier that Cuticchia “chooses to characterize it as a non-profit organization. It''''s certainly not the way his documentation reads.”

Last week, DeGiusti told BioInform that under the terms of the out-of-court settlement, “the gdb.org domain name returns to HSC and HSC is holding that name in trust for Johns Hopkins while the database is resident here.” The non-profit organization was dissolved.

Access to the database will remain free to the scientific community, DeGiusti added. “That was what we were trying to ensure when we took the action in the first place.”

With both parties claiming to be on the side of free access to the academic community, the bitter dispute seems to stem from uncharacteristically altruistic roots. However, each side maintained throughout the process that it had no interest in profiting from the GDB. With the lawsuit dropped, it appears that everybody got their wish: The database will indeed remain in the public domain, at least for the time being.

While pleased that the lawsuit has been dropped because it establishes the GDB researchers as “honest men,” Cuticchia said he is assembling a “large and rather well known legal team” to pursue litigation against the hospital for “wrongful dismissal, defamation of character, and libel.”

Cuticchia was dismissed from the hospital in October. He currently holds a teaching position at the University of Toronto and is also working as an independent bioinformatics consultant.

DeGiusti pointed out that despite the settlement of the lawsuit, “Dr. Cuticchia was dismissed with cause and that remains unchanged.”

But Cuticchia said he’s ready to move on. He’s close to finalizing corporate sponsorship of a new database he’s dubbed GPDB, for Genome Protein Database. The project will provide curated data from the public domain in a fashion similar to that of the GDB, but will run on “a completely different platform,” Cuticchia said.

Details of where the GPDB will be housed and the organizational structure that will support it have yet to be finalized.

— BT

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