Launched six months ago by La Paillasse biohacklab and Roche laboratories, the Epidemium challenge awarded this weekend the top projects analyzing big data on cancer. An open science initiative for better understanding epidemiology and risk factors.
In a warm atmosphere, despite the gravity of the subject matter, on May 28 in the center of Paris, La Paillasse hosted the very first awards ceremony for Challenge4cancer, launched six months ago in collaboration with Roche laboratories.
The project is exemplary and unique in its field. As the fruitful result of an encounter in 2015 between Isabelle Vitali, director of innovation and partnerships at Roche France, and Thomas Landrain, passionate founder of La Paillasse biohacklab, the initiative is generous, collaborative and open.
Epidemium merges the inventiveness of the open science model advocated by La Paillasse with the e-health objectives of the global leader in cancerology. During the ceremony, Vitali confirmed: “We have decided to open and share our data with Epidemium—12 studies representing 8,000 patients. While Roche’s objective is to bring innovation to patients, we felt that we had a tendency to neglect the potential of data. So we decided to open ourselves to big data, to organize a meeting between doctors and data-scientists, in a way that is open, collaborative, multidisciplinary.”
New model for research?
Olivier de Fresnoye, coordinator of the project, insists on the particular advantage of leading an open science operation: “The data-scientists who participated in Epidemium are not just from the health field but also trained professionals in physics, math, financial analysis.” During the six months of the challenge, Epidemium brought together 16 teams, a total of 300 people—one-third students and two-thirds professionals.
“In the age of collective and decentralized intelligence, there is no monopoly of big ideas. Epidemium was not built on the conventional scientific model but rather as a collaborative initiative that opens up a world of perspectives, which could pioneer an entirely new scientific model.”
Thomas Landrain, founder of La Paillasse
Since November 2015, Epidemium coordinators Olivier de Fresnoye and Mehdi Benchoufi have organized dozens of meet-ups at La Paillasse or elsewhere, accompanying participants on a daily basis and introducing them to experts. “This process is in line with our philosophy to challenge research models and give each person a chance to express his or herself,” Landrain explains.
In order to follow the year-long program and award the best projects, Epidemium operated on a budget of 200,000€ from Roche, assembling an ethics committee and scientific committee made up of doctors and experts, such as mathematician and 2010 Fields medal Cédric Villani, the professor Bernard Nordlinger, specialized in digestive and oncological surgery at Ambroise-Paré Hospital in Boulogne-Billancourt, and Gilles Babinet, the “Digital Champion of France”. Along the way, the statisticians and mathematicians learned oncological vocabulary, while the doctors learned the meaning of words such as wiki, hackathon, and other elements of the dataviz universe.
And the award goes to…
The grand prize winner was Baseline for its precise model to extract risk factors. The team also received an honorable mention for inclusiveness and collaborative work, mobilizing 200 people on this project alone. Baseline’s objective is to cross data on cancer incidence and mortality with data on different living conditions throughout the world.
Roche awarded Baseline a check for 5,000€ and six months to establish itself as a start-up, with follow-up. Rendez-vous on November 5 for Baseline phase 2!
Second prize was awarded to Cancerviz, a data visualization tool commended for its intuitive and multi-criteria interface that accelerates the analysis of exploratory data, which is often slow and laborious. Third prize was awarded to the educational serious game Else, where users role-play characters born in 2000 who see their cancer risks fluctuate according to their lifestyle choices.
Epidemium continues in two ways: La Paillasse will continue to welcome projects through the end of the year, while Roche will accompany the three top prizewinners over the next 18 months. Above all, this first experiment in collaborative research aims to engender others…
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