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Scaling FAIR data sharing in an R&D culture

  • Alan Morrison 

Interview with Ben Gardner of AstraZeneca

Scaling FAIR data sharing in an R&D culture

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Ben Gardner’s experience working with drug discovery teams goes back two decades, when he was a team leader at Pfizer. “We were just transferring information by spreadsheet…. It was supposed to be from a data warehouse with our values in there, but our values were all wrong and never made any sense. So every Friday, I downloaded the week’s chemical structures and inserted them into a spreadsheet, and I sent the spreadsheet across the corridor to our chemists.”

Currently, Gardner is the R&D lead for Data Mesh and Semantic Infrastructure at AstraZeneca. What he’s learned over the past six years at the company is that it’s important not to expect everyone on the team to latch onto web ontology language (OWL), graph thinking, or web semantics. Gardner says to put those concepts and methods under the semantic infrastructure hood.

The findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR) data automation capabilities of semantic technologies are powerful, but broader adoption hinges on incremental changes that don’t require lots of new tooling, thinking or workflow changes. For that reason, the FAIR data focus across the AZ R&D teams is on boosting data quality via these controlled vocabularies that are shared and updated via flat tables shared via Snowflake. 

For its controlled vocabularies, AZ uses the Simple Knowledge Organization System eXtension for Labels (SKOS-XL). SKOS is a widely used and well-supported W3C standard compatible with OWL and the rest of the W3C semantic stack.

Key to a successful sharing effort is the sufficient, guided use of uniform resource identifiers (URIs) at the right levels of the data layer. 

It’s always best to be use case driven, but avoid targeting the biggest problems to begin with. “Off the side of the stage is where we started,” Ben remembers, “so that we were away from the political animals who were trying to chew us up in the early stages. We learned to do stuff to the side and deliver value that way.”

Such an illuminating interview. Hope you enjoy it. 

FAIR data podcast with Ben Gardner of AstraZeneca