HELM

Making Open Source Collaboration Work

Over the past few years the biopharmaceutical industry has deployed an arsenal of increasingly complex biomolecular entities in their search for effective therapeutic agents. Portfolios that were once comprised mainly of small molecules and antibodies have expanded to include modalities like antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs); proteins, peptides and antibodies with synthetic, unnatural amino acids; oligonucleotides with unnatural bases, etc. Investigators at Pfizer came to the realization that their scientific informatics infrastructure and methodology was not able to appropriately deal with these types of molecules and, furthermore, no commercial solutions existed. This led to their development of the Hierarchical Editing Language for Macromolecules (HELM). It soon became apparent that many other organizations were facing the same challenge, and that more would be gained from sharing the technology than from the proliferation of disparate, incompatible standards. When the Pistoia Alliance suggested the initiation of a project to release the work into the open source, it was clear that this was the right thing to do. The result: An open standard that is rapidly being adopted throughout the life sciences ecosystem of biopharmaceutical companies, scientific content and solution providers, research institutes, regulatory agencies, etc.

“At Pfizer, like everywhere else, we tend to be very busy and resource-limited. It is generally hard enough to find the time to write up a body of work for publication, let alone preparing it for release into the open source. The Pistoia Alliance provided a great framework, support system and set of resources to carry out all the work needed for public release, something that would have otherwise been cost-prohibitive for us to do alone. It was very symbiotic.”

Sergio Rotstein,
Director of Business Technology, Pfizer

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