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If there is one thing the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s to expect things to change quickly and often unexpectedly. The announcement two weeks ago of 10 Grand Challenge projects from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a welcome development in learning more about the nature of SARS-COV-2, the detail under the surface of the data, and improving our understanding of the natural history of the disease.
The Grand Challenge awards cast a wide net both in terms of geography and the nature of the questions being asked. The diversity is welcome; Covid-19 is a global pandemic and wherever healthcare is happening, health research should also be happening as a matter of routine. We can’t let useful data and insights go to waste and we can’t allow the location of that data to affect unconscious bias in those studies, particularly when we’re dealing with a new disease.
For all the diversity of the Grand Challenge projects, there is a common denominator and that is the approach to how data, metadata, analysis and insights are produced to ensure widespread access, re-use and sharing of data and methods. All the Grand Challenge projects make use of a subscription to the ICODA Workbench to enable a research lifecycle that’s consistent with the principles of open science and the safeguarding of privileged data and content.
The ICODA Workbench is built from the Aridhia DRE and follows our approach of creating a research lifecycle that breaks down many of the barriers to enabling open science programs. We lean heavily on our partners at Microsoft for running the DRE on Azure and are extremely grateful to the Microsoft AI for Good program for granting Azure credits for the Grand Challenge projects. Azure allows us to build effective collaboration networks across the world, linking many data contributors to clinical, scientific, and data science users.
Our primary goal is to enable research teams and data controllers to focus on their science and not on the underlying data management, collaboration and governance infrastructure. The DRE allows data controllers to publish their metadata and other useful artefacts openly, gives them control on the management of data access requests, and provides visibility of how their data is being used. Clinical, scientific and data science users have the freedom to operate on requested data in safe, secure analytical Workspaces, and mint DOI’s that give visibility to methods and code, allowing other teams to build on top of previous work rather than starting from scratch.
SARS-COV-2 is a new disease without much history, so we still have a lot to learn. The Covid-19 Grand Challenges allow us to make a contribution to available data, and a modern approach to data management and governance allows us to make sure that knowledge is accessible, in order to be further built upon by research teams.
We look forward to viewing the results over the coming months.