Pharma insight on digital marketing, social media, mobile apps, online video, websites and interactive healthcare tools
by Dominic Tyer
Boehringer Ingelheim is bringing a 'gamification' approach to clinical research by working with an online scientific research community that has solved problems for NASA and Ford.
The German pharma company's US arm has launched a three-month data science competition that seeks to predict a biological endpoint, with $20,000 on offer in prize money.
Its crowd-sourcing Predicting a Biological Response competition was unveiled late last week and has already attracted 46 players who have submitted 138 entries in their quest for a share of the prize fund.
“Any number of algorithms can be applied to build predictive models; the challenge is to determine beforehand which technique will be most effective,” explains the company.
Running the competition on Boehringer's behalf is Kaggle, an online community of almost 31,000 data scientists who work across disciplines and industries to tackle problems outside their realm of expertise.
It runs predictive modeling competitions for companies, governments and researchers who set problems and supply the prize money in exchange for the intellectual property behind the winning model.
The San Francisco-based company was set up in 2010 and is currently running the $3 million Heritage Health Prize, the largest medical prize ever, to help prevent unnecessary hospitalisation.
“Boehringer Ingelheim is proud to be the first pharmaceutical company to use the Kaggle platform as a way to drive innovative solutions to this scientific challenge,” said Dr James Baxter, vice president of development at Boehringer Ingelheim. “We are excited to encourage a dialog on new ideas that may ultimately bring more health to patients and families.”
Entrants will compete to develop as predictive a model as possible based only on knowledge of small molecules physical properties - or, as Kaggle's Ben Hamner put it, how well can you predict the biological response to a molecule given only features derived from its structure and composition?
In addition to being one of pharma's latest buzzwords, gamification, which is based on the theory of using game design techniques to solve problems and engage audiences, has already shown real, practical applications.
Last year players of a game called Foldit, produced in the US by the University of Washington, took just 10 days to solve a problem that had baffled scientists for 15 years, by deciphering the crystal structure of a protein that causes AIDS in rhesus monkeys.
Meanwhile, Boehringer is also working on a more mainstream game and is due to begin beta-testing Syrum, which it bills as a cross between the hugely popular FarmVille and Pokemon games, soon. The Facebook game will see players compete to develop lifesaving medicines, run their own laboratories and try to bring new drugs to market.