The UK’s National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) has launched a free online portal in an effort to improve the flow of cancer research information between individuals, institutions and organisations in the field.

The portal, ONIX (ONcology Information eXchange) enables scientists and clinicians to search for and access international cancer research data held online. According to the NCRI, ONIX uses search technology that will significantly reduce the time it takes to find cancer-related data and information across the spectrum of research from genomics to clinical trials.

The initiative should cut down on duplication of research efforts around the world and make it easier for researchers to collaborate on similar studies, the Institute adds. As such, ONIX will help to accelerate the development of new cancer therapies and “could potentially improve prognosis and diagnosis”.

While the amount of health-related data available in electronic format has ballooned over the last 10 years in line with modern molecular research techniques, the scale of these data as well as the different formats and locations for storing them have made it almost impossible for individual researchers to use the information effectively, the NCRI pointed out.

Professor Sir Alex Markham, who has led the development of ONIX on behalf of the Institute, described the project as “a major advance for cancer research in the UK”.

Researchers can use the portal “to pull out specific, relevant data from the haystack of information out there – really saving them valuable time”, he commented, adding: “What you see now is just the beginning – the system will eventually become a one-stop resource for online cancer research”.

ONIX will be further refined in response to user feedback, with plans for more content, such as databases and information about cancer-related organisations and resources, as well as improved functionality.

The NCRI informatics programme is also collaborating with a number of UK projects including the National Cancer Intelligence Network and the NHS Connecting for Health Research Capability Programme.
That will enable researchers to access securely electronic summaries of data held by the partner organisations. Moreover, with appropriate authorisation cancer researchers will be able to access and retrieve protected data.

The ONIX portal can be found online at http://www.ncri-onix.org.uk.