Tag Archives: corporations

Illumina explains why patents are killing culture and research.

I should recover an old press release, dating to the 90s, that announced the intention of some japanese businessmen to patent pizza. I am not joking. Since no one thought it before, they considered the idea to patent pizza and claim the royalties to any single restaurant in the world. They have obviously failed after a rather zippy protest of Italian public opinion. The story I am gonna tell today looks quite similar, since the intent to patent biological cloud computing is not less insane. Illumina, the “large and in charge” biotechnology firm who brought mass sequencing to common use, claims the paternity of cloud bioinformatics, as you can see on this Google Patents entry. In a few words, the company affirms to have invented a way to collect and analyze biological data in the cloud. I think that Richard Holland hits the spot in his article on EagleGenomics, the definition of what they claim they have invented is really broad and it could include any kind of bionformatics- oriented application or method. I wonder if they will sue T-Coffee for letting the users to save the alignments results on Dropbox, or the major databases for including a data storage. How many future applications will be charged? How many project will fail for legal reasons?

The real problem with patents is mostly cultural and philosophical. Patents are killing culture, science and innovation. In a very typical neo- liberist mentality, control, exclusion and corporations privileges are the main way in making profits. The first aim is not investing in new ideas, but being the first and the only one in doing this. And there are two ways to do it: be faster or cause the others to be slower to the point to prevent them to run. And the latter, is always the easier choice. Research is thus no more a matter of innovation, ideas and hard work, but a question for lawyers and legal technicism. This is the transposition of the principles of financial speculation to Science.

And as happens to the economy, what we would really need is a democratic governance. A set of laws and practices to guarantee the public access to knowledge and scientific production preventing exclusionary policies. We must admit, for first, that Science needs democracy. As many people can access and modify the information, advances and innovation come faster, and everyone can easily quantify the advantages of this. Kinda obvious, to me.

The crisis of Academia between DIY culture, Science advances and Welfare cuts.

If I were to fully analyze the phenomenon of the crisis of the Academia, I would end up consuming every single megabit available for the contents of this site. Such a wide problem could be dissected under several points of view and, for the scopes of this blog, directing the readers to the main aspects I have found will be enough.

To understand the crisis of academia, we should consider two questions. The first is what a student would ask himself before planning his post- school life: wich kind of educational path should I choose to gain the best formation for the work I want to do? And the second question could be made by any entrepreneur who’s designing a business plan based on innovation: where should I find the best developers for a new product? Fifteen years ago, the answer for both questions would have definitely been “University”. Nowadays, things have changed, and this is a good definition of what we call “the crisis of Academia”. In this month, I will try to deepen this in my insights here. Basically, I have found three main reason explaining why universities are facing a crisis.

First reason. Alternatives are quite good anyways. God bless DIY.

We must consider that the alternatives to academia, at the age of the Internet, are getting more and more effective. Many computer scientists gain more information and practice from web and sharing than from universities, and many amazing things are not developed in the labs anymore. Computer Science is obviously the best example we can make. For instance, one could choose to become a database admin leaning on his own forces and obtain a certification that will be surely considered in the labor market. In fact, also the role of majors in this should be better investigated. In many fields of knowledge, from computer science to arts, the mentality of “you gotta make it in this world alone” is rapidly spreading.

Second reason. Universities are failing to be up-to-date.

For a biologist, the most experienced phenomenon it’s definitely the difficulty of universities to keep up with Science advances. If you look at this from an Italian university like I do, it tends to be dramatic. Considering that my university, the Sapienza University of Rome, is the best ranked university for science teaching in Italy, the fact that biology teaching and academic offer haven’t change in the last 10 years, it’s quite explicative. The major progresses in theoretical, computational, synthetic and genomic research have been ignored. For someone who needs to achieve a good formation, the best idea is to supplement what your professors will teach you. No one can actually say that you don’t need to study biology to get a good job in the field, but if you want to be competitive, you must consider to supplement what you learned. University is very often what a mathematician could define as a “necessary but not sufficient condition” to get a good professional profile.

Third reason. Funding cut and war on public education.

In times of crisis, where I consider “crisis” just a buzzword made to justify the shameful welfare cuts that many european governments are actuating, the aspect of the decrease of funds for academia cannot be ignored. We could consider this both as a reason of the crisis of academia and a consequence. The cuts of funds in the universities is mostly verified in two big ambits. It occurs widely in latin- european countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Italy, as a part of the general decrease in investment on welfare triggered by international constraints, but it is also present in Anglo-Saxon countries. In both UK and United States, the rising of the fees for students is really sizable and represents a big problem in terms of social segregation. The cuts and the tightening of the access conditions, and the general pauperization of academic resources cause many students to choose alternative formation.

Anyways, seeing it from a different point, we should consider that one of the best analyzed and most important processes that are going on is that governments are steadily devolving decision power on many aspects of our society to majors and private groups. This theory has been very well explained by Noam Chomsky in an article he wrote two years ago. Basically, governments are losing the control of crucial sides of our society including education. Citizens are more and more in the condition of facing Major directly, bypassing the government intermediation. This could explain the efforts made by private groups to invest and drive the advanced education. The optics of the companies is therefore to choose the best educational system for their own interests. And this system, it may not always be the university.

We can conclude with an optimistic and “evolutionary” consideration. The word “crisis” derive from a greek word (that I don’t even dare to write) indicating both “destruction” and “innovation”. Crisis is a disruptive event that can threaten the same existence of a system, but it also represents a big push for a change. In an evolutionary perspective, we can say that this crisis causes a major pressure on university system that it will be urged to evolve. And the open access courses we can find on coursera or iTunes U, provided by the most prestigious universities are probably a good sign of innovation.

Biotech Corporations: Illumina announces NextBio acquisition.

I republish almost on real time the announcement of one of the biggest transactions in the biotech corporate world in 2013. Right about three minutes ago, the headquarters of Illumina announced the acquiring of NextBio, leader in the field of biological BigData services. Illumina, founded in 1998 and accounted for more than 300 millions dollars of revenue, will define the acquisition within the end of October. It follows the official post from Illumina website.

SAN DIEGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Oct. 28, 2013– Illumina, Inc. (NASDAQ:ILMN) today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Santa Clara-based NextBio, a leader in clinical and genomic informatics. NextBio’s powerful big-data platforms aggregate and analyze large quantities of phenotypic and genomic data for research and clinical applications. With the addition of NextBio’s platform upon completion of the acquisition, Illumina will be able to offer customers enterprise level bioinformatics solutions that accelerate the discovery of new associations between the human genome and disease, and ultimately, enable the application of those discoveries within healthcare.

“This agreement with NextBio demonstrates Illumina’s unwavering commitment to drive the adoption of sequencing in new markets and vastly improve the genomic information workflow,” said Jay Flatley, President and CEO of Illumina. “NextBio enables the classification and aggregation of phenotypic and clinical data within a single environment and allows analysis of that data at unprecedented speed and scale. The combination of Illumina’s BaseSpace cloud computing environment for next-generation sequencing with NextBio’s platform for integrating patient data will allow us to deliver solutions that seamlessly integrate the entire workflow from sample to result.”

NextBio’s platform allows customers to quickly compare their experimental results against thousands of published and private data sets by means of a unique correlation engine, which pre-computes billions of significant connections between disparate data elements and helps discover new associations. NextBio Clinical, which in 2012 passed an independent HIPAA audit, is designed for seamless integration with existing clinical and research systems. Backed by highly scalable Software as a Service (SaaS) enterprise technology, it is capable of analyzing petabytes of data.

NextBio’s database platforms are currently used by researchers and clinicians in more than 50 commercial and academic institutions. NextBio will be integrated into Illumina’s newly formed Enterprise Informatics business under the leadership of Nick Naclerio, SVP of Corporate and Venture Development and General Manager ofEnterprise Informatics. NextBio co-founder Ilya Kupershmidt and Chief Technology Officer Satnam Alag will continue to provide scientific and technical leadership as part of the new business unit.

Illumina is confirming its 2013 financial guidance provided on October 21, 2013. The transaction is expected to close by the end of October.

Original article:  http://investor.illumina.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=121127&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1869001&highlight=