Knowledge management speeds search for SARS cure

A global team of scientists racing to find a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome is using a knowledge management tool from Vancouver-based Knexa Solutions Inc. to collaborate online.

The SARS Accelerated Vaccine Initiative (SAVI) team, which is funded by the B.C. government, is focusing on finding a vaccine for the corona virus, the virus thought to be linked to the illness.

As part of the process, Knexa chief technology officer Greg Whitnell said the SAVI team will use its software, which is designed to enable users to store knowledge on a Web site, as well as to look up experts and create communities of individuals. It does this through the use of knowledge bases and provides the ability to work as subteams within the site. It permits users to stay in touch via e-mail alerts. This means users don’t have to proactively search for new information as it becomes available, Whitnell said. The information is pushed to them.

The software can be implemented quickly using the vendor’s fast-track methodology, said CEO David Brett. Knexa, which provided the same technology to help Toulouse, France, manage a housing emergency following a large chemical explosion in 2001, e-mailed the B.C. government following the announcement of the funding, says Brett.

“”We got a response within 24 hours and within a week we had set up a demo site for them to investigate how the site could help them,”” said Brett.

Deployment is also quick because Knexa hosts the solution, he said. “”We provide all the infrastructure and all of the capability, and that makes life very easy,”” said Brett. “”They can access this through any browser.””

Paul Cox, provincial pandemic planning co-ordinator at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, called the Knexa knowledge management solution a virtual home for the collection of international scientists working on the project.

“”It’s a way to directly ask questions of people who are working on the same topic as you are and also at the same time, go to the cupboard and find all the information you need all in one place,”” said Cox.

And like any home, the rooms need to be furnished, he said. That’s where the team is with the portal at this point.

“”We have the house and we’re furnishing it as we speak.””

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But while many organizations that have implemented knowledge management solutions have had to resort to offering employees incentives to use them – anything ranging from travel points to computers to cash, said Brett – that’s not the case with the SAVI team.

“”The real incentive from our end is the fact that it will make the job easier,”” said Cox. “”In other words, we will not necessarily have to create folders within our own e-mail system. We will all be reading off the same page; we’ll all be talking the same language.””

A demo site has been running for about a month and about 20 scientists have been posting information. The site is expected to go live this week.

Different groups will contribute as the project moves through the various phases of research, testing on animals and humans, and the regulatory and vaccine production and distribution stages. Normally the process takes about 10 years, Cox said, but this initiative is meant to speed that up.

“”We have several groups working simultaneously that would ordinarily be working sequentially. They’re already using work done from genome sequencing and begun work around virology. They’re moving very quickly already.””

So far 32 people have died from SARS in Toronto.

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