NCI Bioinformatics after Kenneth Buetow: Varmus Launches Fundamental Redesign

From Jan. 6, 2012:

NCI will restructure its bioinformatics programs following resignation of Kenneth Buetow, institute director Harold Varmus announced.

“We will take advantage of the change in leadership to re-evaluate our informatics programs in the light of new developments in oncologic and computer sciences,” NCI Director Harold Varmus wrote in a memo Dec. 19.

Buetow—whose vision shaped the controversial NCI program that received $350 million in taxpayers’ money—resigned on Dec. 13, a month after a contentious meeting of an ad hoc board formed to review the institute’s bioinformatics programs (The Cancer Letter, Dec. 2, 2011).

NCI is starting a search for Buetow’s successor, as the director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology and the head of the Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid.

The changeover will likely be so fundamental that even the acronym caBIG—which the institute once proudly trademarked—may not survive. The reason would be the “G” in caBIG, which stands for “Grid.”

 The Buetow-era plan to put the entire cancer bioinformatics enterprise on a single grid became caBIG’s most controversial feature. Researchers said that the efforts to construct the grid pushed caBIG beyond its original mission of making it easier for researchers to exchange data.

Efforts to construct the grid were attacked last March, when a committee of the Board of Scientific Advisors published a report that criticized caBIG for expanding its goals beyond the original intent (The Cancer Letter, March 18, 2011).

“If you remember from the March report, one of the things that never took hold was the grid—this fabric of interconnected computers that communicate with one another via very complex protocols,” said Daniel Masys, chair of the ad hoc panel formed to review the program. Masys is an affiliate professor of biomedical and health informatics at the University of Washington Department of Medical Education and Biomedical Informatics.

“If nothing else, you want to rename it from something like caBIG, because our committee’s observation—and that of the March report—is that the grid doesn’t really seem to be necessary for a lot of cancer research, and it caused more complexity than it returned value,” Masys said in an interview with The Cancer Letter, which begins on page 1.

Now, following Buetow’s resignation, the Masys committee will play an important role in reshaping caBIG. It will help find a successor and will provide broad strategic advice that would give shape to a new strategic plan.
caBIG’s existing strategic plan predates the March 2011 BSA report.

Click Here to see the rest of this article, including the memo NCI Director Harold Varmus sent to his staff.

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