Barry's Safer World by Design

CEO’s drive to build a Safer World by Design

How personal experience shapes business goals   

Why would a busy Director give time to starting a global, public-benefit organization? For that matter, how do you even go about it? The US National Academy of Sciences recently asked Barry Hardy, Managing Director, Douglas Connect, to talk about his experience organizing OpenTox, the global, community-led open platform for predictive toxicology, and to communicate his views on how connecting people and data could best support data-driven decision-making. Here, he explains why he believes it is important for scientists to join together in such a venture.

When I was a young PhD student at Syracuse University, I spent months alone developing and testing code to carry out my planned scientific simulation work. No one else on campus knew anything about the new emerging science of molecular simulation I was working in. It was a solitary existence.

Community and collaboration in science

Barry Hardy on panel with Dr. Kris Thayer, Director of EPA's IRIS programThen, during my postdoctoral time in Bethesda and Oxford, I discovered groups working in my research area. I was no longer alone! I could use their programs and get advice when I got stuck with mine! Suddenly, I understood how important it is to interact with other people in science. And, through my new hobby, developing the new World Wide Web to support scientific communications and community, I began to explore how to make this approach even broader. The Internet would extend the range of conversations to hundreds of participants online. Scientists need no longer be restricted to their own labs, schools or even countries! In that time, well before Facebook, this was a new experience…

Later, I brought this belief into my work developing Douglas Connect: community and collaboration would be a core part of its model; a combination of science, technology and business would help solve the important problems we face caring for people and the environment. One of our early projects was InnovationWell, a community for people interested in integrated knowledge-based innovation and best practices in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and life sciences industries.

Through discussion with InnovationWell’s members, I became convinced that new scientific and technical approaches were needed in predictive toxicology and safety assessment. A Safer World by Design, including the replacement of animal testing, must be the goal for everyone involved.

‘Collaboration with industry is a cornerstone of this work. Together, we attempt to build the industrial solutions of the future for safety assessment.’

In 2008, thanks to a grant from the European Commission, Douglas Connect started OpenTox, a collaborative project with the ambitious aim of developing a framework for predictive toxicology. OpenTox developed concepts and prototypes on how to get people and resources working together to assess the toxic properties of substances. We made good progress, but it was clear the journey was going to be long, given the many social and technical challenges to be overcome. OpenTox led to several subsequent collaborative projects where Douglas Connect further developed ideas and applications, including, recently, for risk assessment (OpenRiskNet) and nanotechnology (eNanoMapper and NanoCommons). And OpenTox began to have a broader influence: it became a community. Since 2015, it is an international, non-profit, member-driven association.

Integrated testing and analysis

'We want to bring data solution development right to the scientist’

To move the Safer World by Design goal forward, Douglas Connect created a team of scientists and developers able to work in close collaboration with partners and customers. Together, we attempt to build the industrial solutions of the future for safety assessment, turning the vision of toxicity-testing in the 21st century into reality and generating reliable, integrated evidence that regulators can accept with confidence. Collaboration with industry is a cornerstone of this work, as demonstrated in our recent application, created with P&G, for integrated testing: a non-animal testing approach to evaluate the skin sensitization of cosmetic ingredients.

‘The worlds of experiment, data science and user application are too often disconnected.’

It has long been clear to me that data management faces major challenges, in particular the achievement of a common language to allow people and data to work together. The worlds of experiment, data science and user application are too often disconnected. To solve this problem, Douglas Connect has laid a strong data foundation for integrated testing and analysis. Now, we want to bring data solution development right to the scientist, by setting up an experimental lab at our headquarters in Basel. Working side by side with our partners and customers in this lab, we intend to integrate data generated into a common infrastructure supported by a common, harmonised language.

Inclusive approach

‘We still need to tear down walls between experiment and data analysis and encourage faster knowledge flow between groups’

Science has seen a revolution since my days as a PhD student. It would be unthinkable, today, for a scientist to endure the solitary existence I experienced back then. Instead, the problem today is how to organize both the people and the data being generated, how to communicate findings in a meaningful way, and how to close the gaps between research, regulation and the market. We still need to tear down walls between experiment and data analysis and encourage faster knowledge flow between groups to accelerate innovation success. Douglas Connect’s inclusive approach has already shown its value. I am confident it is going to help bring forth even more important innovation towards a Safer World by Design.

About Edelweiss Connect

Edelweiss Connect has developed computer software that helps combine data from many different sources and formats into a useable form for evaluation and re-use. In addition, we have developed other software programs that can use the collected data and data from in vitro tests to predict the safety of chemical compounds in the human body.


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    Hochbergerstrasse 60C
    CH-4057 Basel / Basel-Stadt

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  • Address: Edelweiss Connect Inc
    Research Triangle Park NC
    800 Park Offices Dr
    Durham, NC 27709