The Pistoia Alliance is partnering with the TM Forum (a non-profit ndustry association focused on enabling service provider agility and innovation) to explore the use of mobile apps in life science R&D. An initial meeting was held at the TM Forum headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey on 26 Oct 2012. The Pistoia Alliance “App Strategy” team shared its vision for the creation of a vibrant mobile community for life science researchers that would foster innovative thinking among researchers and accelerate research breakthroughs globally. Supporting mobile apps in this space will necessitate back-end cloud environments to support data-sharing, information navigation, and high-performance computation to enable desired workflows—elements that are firmly in the wheelhouse of TM Forum member companies.
The focus of the meeting was information sharing—to learn from each other and share perspectives. Invited speakers covered a wide range of topics relevant to the mobile app world. Speakers from the Pistoia Alliance community covered chemistry, biology/bioinformatics, translational medicine, and health IT, while TM Forum covered all things “cloud” including standards, security and computer systems validation, app store models, and novel visualization capabilities.
Chemistry is one area that already has seen some app development, and current mobile app functionality was reviewed, including advanced cheminformatics tools, access to public databases like ChemSpider, and novel ways to foster collaboration and data sharing via apps like ODDT and data appification (such as TB Mobile, which makes available a set of molecules with activity against mycobacterium tuberculosis and known targets in CDD). The Pistoia members described some of the current limitations in mobile apps for chemistry, in particular the difficulty involved in scaling up app capabilities in terms of data size. Mobile apps are making excellent progress in providing functionality for working on small data sets, but working with large data collections will require a new cloud-based infrastructure. It was indeed striking to see that in general biology mobile apps were not as prevalent as chemistry apps, though Life Technologies has collected a few examples.
Another topic covered by several groups was the use of cloud environments to power compute-intensive tasks and support workflows in gene sequencing and genomics. This was predicted to become increasingly routine in both life sciences research and clinical environments. An intriguing discussion covered how, and even whether, mobile apps could actually enhance work in these areas capabilities. In the healthcare domain, crowd sourcing approaches are being used extensively to transform how doctors and patients interact with each other and with their data. Moving from complex static web pages to simplified app designs that make complex information easy to understand has led to accelerated adoption in healthcare and provides a useful framework to emulate as we move to harness the power of apps to both simplify and transform life science R&D. Further, the emerging use of open source platforms such as tranSMART (an effort that the Pistoia Alliance is championing) drives the need for cloud-based data-sharing environments that apps could leverage to drive communication and data analysis.
Many presentations discussed the differentiating features of mobile apps (due to their design) that might make them compelling to life scientists. The camera standard on mobile platforms is a powerful differentiator, and the group brainstormed on what that capability could do to transform thinking. One novel app using the camera could potentially be used to render static pages into 3D models of a molecule or a protein, or even a pathway analysis view. QR codes or other visual recognition modalities might also be useful—could pointing the camera at an instrument bring information on that instrument (such as when it was last used or calibrated) directly to the user?
It was enlightening to hear such a diverse set of opinions from the audience at this meeting. The Pistoia Alliance App Strategy team is now working on developing potential projects we could do in partnership with the TM Forum. We welcome input for this ongoing discussion.