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Thomson Reuters Releases APIs to Link Commercial, Proprietary, and Public Drug R&D Data

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By Uduak Grace Thomas

This week, Thomson Reuters launched Cortellis for Informatics, a set of application programming interfaces that lets researchers combine information from the company's commercial drug development databases with their own internal data as well as information from public sources.

Specifically, Cortellis for Informatics offers four APIs for integrating data on investigational drugs, drug targets, ontologies, and analytics. Users can also share the data through dashboards, custom reports and alerts, and intranet and mobile applications.

The release is part of Cortellis, a web service that the company launched last November to provide access to all of its drug research and development content via a single platform.

Cortellis includes data on subjects such as competitive intelligence; patent information; pharmacology-based data; and systems biology and disease data. It also includes visualization and analysis tools from Tibco Spotfire including a pipeline competition matrix and a pipeline funnel charting tool.

Although the company still offers separate access to its individual databases, it believes that an integrated platform enables customers to more easily make connections in data that will lead them to actionable insights, Joe Donahue, Thomson Reuters' senior vice president for life sciences, told BioInform this week.

Furthermore, the Cortellis for Informatics APIs wouldn’t have been possible with separate resources, he said.

"If you looked at our previous content sets, we didn’t have the ability to provide this level of programmatic access to those datasets," he said. "We had to bring the content together, integrate it through the ontologies, and then we had the ability to develop these APIs to provide the access."

Customers can access the APIs from applications such as Accelrys Pipeline Pilot and Microsoft SharePoint, Donahue said.

A Customer's Perspective

Biogen Idec, a biotechnology company that specializes in drugs for neurodegenerative disorders, is an early-access user of Cortellis Informatics.

William Hayes, Biogen Idec's director of decision support, told BioInform that the company began working with Thomson Reuters databases about two years ago.

At the time, it was attempting to locate specific information from the company's drug pipeline database that would allow it to track the activities of similar drugs — such as market position as well as any reported side effects and upcoming clinical trials — that were being developed by competitors in the market.

The company attempted to do this first by web scraping — a method of automatically extracting information from websites, Hayes said.

However, this method proved inefficient as it could not keep up with changes to web pages and required significant computational resources, he said.

Additionally, attempting to locate the information by regular searches of Thomson Reuters databases, such as Thomson Reuters Pharma, was "really overkill," he said.

"We have a very targeted view of what drugs and part of the pipeline that we are interested in ... but every time you go into Thomson Reuters Pharma, you basically have to re-search and re-narrow down [which] particular compounds you are interested in," Hayes explained.

Using the APIs, however, turned out to be "a much simpler process," he said. "We can programmatically [find the data] and expose this via a series of updates, notification via email or RSS … [O]nce we do it once it's done."

Biogen still retains access to single databases like Thomson Reuters Pharma so that its employees have access to all the information within them, Hayes said.

"The API is a great tool to be able to do custom work and integration work," he said. "But we are still very interested in having platforms like Thomson Pharma ... so if somebody wants to do a more thorough analysis, they have the full-blown application to do it ... we don’t want to have to reproduce that."

Currently the company is using the API to build widget functionality for Microsoft SharePoint that will allow it to have information for each drug project always available to its employees on a web page, Hayes said.

Biogen also plans to incorporate the APIs into an electronic laboratory notebook from IDBS that it is implementing internally, he said.


Have topics you'd like to see covered in BioInform? Contact the editor at uthomas [at] genomeweb [.] com.

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