Stephen Friend

Ashoka Fellow
Seattle, Washington, United States
Fellow Since 2011
Related TopicsHealth & Fitness, Health care


This profile was prepared when Stephen Friend was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The New Idea
In the life sciences, the existing approach to conducting research is inhibited by the traditional reward structures of academia and industry—publishing in the former and patenting in the others. These proprietary practices inhibit advances in our understanding of disease because of the way in which they reinforce data hoarding rather than data sharing.

Stephen is introducing a new way of working for the research community based on collaboration among genomic and biomedical scientists in various settings in order to speed research, treatments, and cures. At the core of the idea is a “precompetitive commons,” a space where researchers can convene, interact, give and take basic research, and build upon one another’s insights in an environment governed by neither academia nor industry. It’s a novel combination of two existing concepts. The first is the Commons—the idea, most famously expressed by Creative Commons, of a community where information is shared in order to achieve greater social benefits. The second is a precompetitive space—the idea that there is basic research that informs all efforts to improve the health of people and families.

Begun in 2009, the Commons is an online, open access repository of data sets and models from contributor-scientists in academia and industry—Stephen hopes that it will become for the life sciences what Wikipedia is for the encyclopedic sciences. But this platform is only one piece of the Commons which is, importantly, a set of norms and practices—a new culture of working for the health of patients (and we will all be patients someday).
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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