Microsoft enlists cancer researchers in a new data sharing initiative

The Cascadia Data Discovery Initiative intends to make it easier for cancer researchers to work with each other’s data and analytical tools.

Microsoft, a technology giant now worth more than $1 trillion, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have been developing a data sharing initiative and last week the company announced four new members: BC Cancer, the University of British Columbia, the University of Washington eScience Institute and the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

“The partnership will tackle the barriers that make breakthroughs in research difficult, starting with barriers to data discovery and data access,” Microsoft’s chief data analytics officer John Kahan said in a blog post.

“By bringing together those producing the data and those building novel tools and governance processes to help manage, integrate and analyze diverse datasets, we have the potential to make impactful, life-changing — and potentially lifesaving — discoveries using the massive amount of scientific, educational and clinical trial data being generated every day.”

Microsoft’s revenue totaled more than $110 billion in 2018, up from $96.5 billion in the previous year. The collaboration with cancer centers, called the Cascadia Data Discovery Initiative, or CDDI, came together after the company made a $4 million challenge gift to Fred Hutch focused on accelerating cancer research. Kahan said CDDI will work to remove barriers that “make breakthroughs in research difficult, starting with barriers to data discovery and data access.”

Shannon McWeeney, Ph.D., associate director of computational biomedicine in the Knight Cancer Institute, offered this perspective: “At the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, we view patients as our partners in our mission to end cancer as we know it and they may permit us to responsibly use their data to achieve optimal benefit through broad data sharing.”

McWeeney is a professor and head of the division of bioinformatics and computational biology in the OHSU School of Medicine. In 2016, she served on the Enhanced Data Sharing Working Group for the National Cancer Institute and White House Cancer Moonshot. Since 2018, she has been a member of the data sharing workstream for the Biden Cancer Initiative.

“We envision a global research community in which sharing de-identified data becomes the norm,” she said. “Efforts like CDDI that are working towards this vision will help maximize the knowledge gained from the efforts and sacrifices of our patients.”