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Biological Entity Registration - 10 Years On

Updated: Jul 19

December 31, 2019


By John F. Conway, Chief Visioneer Officer 20/15 Visioneers LLC A little over ten years ago, I was explaining to the late Frank Brown how we needed to build a Biological Entity Registration system while we were both working at Accelrys Inc. (acquired by Dassault Systemes and now called Biovia). If you knew Frank, you’ll remember how his eyes would get wider when he heard something exciting. Well, his eyes got wide. Not only were we able to build this first commercial tool, but along with Rob Brown’s (Now VP of Marketing @ dotmatics) help, we were able to convince several large biopharmaceutical companies to join forces and build it as a team effort or a precompetitive Scientific Interest Group (SIG).

After lots of work, many lessons learned and a large collaborative effort, the tool got built with a subset of entities that the SIG prioritized. Building a new tool for the scientific R&D community was exciting and validated ideas and work my team was starting at my previous employer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Eventually, it was time to bring the Biological Entity Registration system to the plethora of companies outside of the SIG. I can’t tell you exactly why it was so difficult and maybe people in the industry will comment here with facts and opinions. I can guess that maybe the product’s usability or maturity was in question? The initial product wasn't exactly what I was envisioning. What I can say is that several companies built their own tool or felt that they had something similar enough and they weren’t interested.

Some interesting work came out of this as we prepared to engage clients who had requests like Antibody Drug Conjugates, ADCs, and several other entities including plant biology. Dave Dawley, an incredible problem-solver and astute scientific software developer, created and developed a BioSMILES language after a brief brainstorming discussion. At the same time or slightly later, Sergio Rotstein of Pfizer started developing HELM.


Surprisingly, we discovered that many prospective clients scoffed or felt it wasn’t needed and that they would make do without biological entity registration. The interesting part about this thinking is it was actually very similar to the thinking 15 and 20 years earlier when chemical entity registration was introduced. Like chemical registration, biological entity registration was a foundational need. Frank and I saw where drug discovery was going and knew the quickly growing importance of all aspects of biology in the near and far future, even when our own company and many of our prospective clients didn’t.

Fast forward ten years later and Biological Entity Registration is a foundational need for most, if not all biotechs and bio-pharma. The needs met include but are not limited to: uniqueness identification in most cases, relatedness, safety, tracking, link to inventory, pedigree/genealogy/lineage and patent protection.

So, what have we learned? Don’t underestimate the value of process capture, data contextualization, and using data standards (ontologies, taxonomies, data dictionaries). Understanding the reality of a biological’s lifespan or journey is critical. Consistent scientific business rules allow you to consistently change…which ultimately is science - constant learning and constant change.

Today there are multiple companies offering a Biological Entity Registration system or tool. Not all scientific informatics tools on the market today are equal and if you need help assessing or selecting the right tool let us know! We have been on all sides of the fence and in the trenches!

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