The American Chemical Society and NIH's PubChem
The American Chemical Society (ACS) is calling on Congress to "refocus" and curtail the NIH's PubChem, a freely accessible database that connects chemical information with biomedical research and clinical information, organizing facts in numerous public databases into a unified whole.1 It is a critical component of NIH's Molecular Libraries Initiative, which in turn is a key element of the NIH strategic "roadmap" to speed new medical treatments and improve healthcare.
ACS claims that PubChem competes with its Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS). There are strong arguments that PubChem and the Chemical Abstracts Service databases are complementary, not duplicative.
- Background including these updates
- Position statements
- ACS and UC - Facts and Figures
- What You Can Do
- Media Coverage of the Issue
- PubChem is a freely accessible database created by NIH in 2004 to
provide information about small organic molecules. It is designed for use as a research tool and as a starting point that may lead to the development of new medications. The database connects chemical information with biomedical research and clinical information, organizing facts in numerous databases into a unified whole.
PubChem is a critical part of the Molecular Libraries initiative of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research. It combines new data generated by NIH with data available from other public sources to create a powerful new research tool. It is part of the powerful family of integrated databases operated by the National Library of Medicine -- including GenBank, PubMed and a host of other resources that are utilized millions of times a day by scientists all over the world. The integration of these databases makes the whole much greater than the sum of its parts.
PubChem is a critical new tool that will speed the development of new treatments for America's most important health problems. It brings information about the biological activities of chemical substances to biomedical researchers on a broad scale.
A fundamental NIH principle is that medical research information developed with public funds must be made freely and publicly available for the good of advancing medical research to cure disease.
As announced in a press release about the Nature Publishing Group's new journal Nature Chemical Biology, chemical compounds mentioned in that journal's research articles are linked to the PubChem database so readers can consult more information about its chemical structures and properties, and biological assay results. Concomittantly, data about compounds mentioned in articles is automatically deposited into PubChem, providing new data for the PubChem database.
ACS/CAS has expressed concern that PubChem is a threat to the financial survival of the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS). PubChem provides free access to its database; CAS charges a fee for researchers to use its database. ACS has demanded that NIH shut down PubChem or substantially alter it so as not to compete with CAS.
NIH met with ACS officials to seek a solution that would resolve the society's concern. Since the initial meeting, there have been multiple communications between NIH and ACS leadership. ACS has effectively broken off discussions, leaving the issues unresolved. NIH is willing to continue discussions with ACS/CAS to benefit the scientific community and biomedical research. For example, NIH has said it is willing to link to the CAS database, essentially providing CAS with access to a new market. Medical researchers infrequently use CAS at this time.
Opposition to PubChem is from the ACS leadership. It is not clear if ACS members are aware of the issue and if they would agree with the ACS leadership's position.
NIH staff analysis shows that PubChem and CAS overlap relatively little in terms of content. PubChem and CAS differ widely in scope and resources:
- Budget -- CAS budget is reported to be $260 million; PubChem budget is $3 million.
- Staffing -- CAS staff is reported to be 1,300; PubChem staff is 13.
- Scope -- CAS has information on 25 million unique chemicals; PubChem has information on 850,000 unique chemicals (though this number is expected to grow).
- Purpose -- CAS provides chemical, commercial and patent information to chemists; PubChem integrates medical information for medical researchers.
- Overlap -- PubChem and CAS content are complementary resources aimed at different segments of the scientific community.
- Update (7/27/05):
On July 14, 2005 the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to forward the FY 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to the full Senate. The accompanying report provides comment and guidance to NIH regarding PubChem and its relationship with the private sector. The senate report modified the parallel House report, seeming to provide stronger support for PubChem, notably by highlighting the "primary goal of maximizing progress in science" but goes on to suggest that NIH avoid "unnecessary duplication and competition with private sector databases." A conference to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills is expected in the Fall.
The full language of the report's clause on PubChem:
PubChem- The Committee is aware of the development of PubChem, the informatics component of the Molecular Libraries project of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research. The Committee understands that the purpose of PubChem is to create a database of chemical structures and their biological activities. PubChem will house both data from the new NIH molecular libraries screening center network and compound information from the scientific literature. The Committee expects the NIH to work with private sector chemical information providers, with a primary goal of maximizing progress in science while avoiding unnecessary duplication and competition with private sector databases.Senate Report 109-103 - DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATION BILL, 2006. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/?&db_id=cp109&sid=cp109LH9vq&r_n=sr103.109&item=&sel=TOC_509159&
- PubChem Supporters:
Reply to Nobel Laureate Roberts (see above) from Madeleine Jacobs, ACS Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer.
Open letter from ACS President Dr. William F. Carroll, Jr.
The American Chemical Society was founded in 1876. It is a U.S. not-for-profit corporation whose national charter was approved by the U.S. Congress on August 25, 1937, for the purposes of encouraging the advancement of chemistry; promoting research in chemical science and industry; increasing and diffusing chemical knowledge; and promoting scientific interests and inquiry through its meetings, reports, papers, and publications. The Society has more than 159,000 members.
At December 31, 2004, the American Chemical Society had over $1 billion in assets and annual operating revenues of almost $410 million. The table below shows revenue sources and expenses (emphasis added).
ACS Revenues and Expenses Unrestricted revenues - $410 million Total expenses $404 million Electronic services 62% Salaries and fringe benefits 46% Printed services 16% Professional services 10% Petroleum Research Fund 7% Advertising, marketing, sales promotion 6% Advertising 4% Grants & awards 6% Member insurance 3% Electronic data processing 5% Dues 3% Building operations 5% Investment income 2% Depreciation & amortization 5% Other 4% Publication & distribution 5% Member insurance premiums 3% Travel 2% Database fees & royalties 1% Interest & financing 1% Other 6% Source: ACS (http://www.chemistry.org/portal/a/c/s/1/acsdisplay.html?DOC=committees%5Cbandf%5Cindex.html)
Total compensation for the ACS executive director was $1.025 million in 2003 and its president of publications received over $670,000 that year. Scholars' concern about ACS executive salaries was reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education on August 18, 2004.
According to the ACS website "the principle sources of funding for the Society's activities include net revenues generated by the Publications Division and the Chemical Abstracts Service Division."
ACS publishes approximately 30 scholarly journals. Average annual subscription price increases for those journals from 2003-2005 is 9% (see ACS Journal chart showing price, price increases, impact factor, and UC usage).
- UC and ACS:
UC scholars published over 2,300 articles in ACS journals from 2003 to 2005.
More than 70 UC scholars serve as editors or editorial board members on ACS journals.
Through a systemwide license coordinated by the California Digital Library, all of UC has access to SciFinder Scholar which includes the CAS databases: Chemical Abstracts, Registry, CASREACT, CHEMCATS, and CHEMLIST. The CDL also manages a systemwide license providing access to the online editions of ACS journals, their online backfiles and Chemical and Engineering News.
- Talk about publishing issues with your society:
University of California faculty serve on 67% of the editorial boards of ACS journals and about 15% of all top-tier journals. They wield enormous influence with publishers.
Ask for clarification and justification of the ACS's arguments against PubChem.
Discuss the possibilities for open access resources, such as PubChem, to complement high-quality but expensive subscription-based resources such as CAS.
Discuss ways to support society activities from creative sources other than escalating subscription prices, which become unsustainable.
Encourage your scholarly society to maintain reasonable prices for its journals.
- Consult with your library:
The libraries stand ready to assist you and are eager to discuss their responses to the overall economic challenges in scholarly communication and their reaction to this specific issue. A list of UC's library scholarly communication officers is maintained at http://libraries.universityofcalifornia.edu/scholarly/.
- Contact legislators:
The ACS lobbying efforts are targeting Rep. Ralph Regula (OH), Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (tel. 202-225-3876, fax 202-225-3059>; and
Senator Arlen Specter (PA), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (tel. 202-224-4254, fax 202-228-1229).
[In chronological order. Web addresses are provided where possible but access may require a personal or institutional subscription to the source. Excerpts from many of these items are available from Peter Suber's Open Access News.]
- Chemists Want NIH to Curtail Database. Science Magazine. Jocelyn Kaiser. May 6, 2005. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/308/5723/774a
- Chemical Publisher goes after NIH. Federal Computer Week. Aliya Sternstein. May 27, 2005. http://www.fcw.com/article88988-05-27-05-Web
- Parties on Both Sides of CAS/PubChem Dispute Take to the Web --and the Hill. bio1nfOrm. Bernadette Toner. May 30, 2005. http://www.bioinform.com/issues/9_21/features/131747-1.html
- A Cauldron Bubbles: PubChem and the American Chemical Society. Information Today Newsbreak. Miriam A. Drake. June 6, 2005. http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb050606-1.shtml
- House Approves 0.5% Raise for NIH. Science Online. Jocelyn Kaiser. June 10, 2005. http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2005/610/1
- Chemical Society: NIH Database Hurts Business. NPR All Things Considered: Health & Science. David Kestenbaum. June 12, 2005. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4700306
- Publishers make appeal to lawmakers in NIH dispute. Federal Computer Week (FCW.COM). Aliya Sternstein. June 13, 2005. http://www.fcw.com/article89163-06-13-05-Print
- NIH AND ACS SPAR OVER PUBCHEM: Agency's new chemical database draws concern from ACS for similarities to CAS Registry. Chemical and Engineering News. Susan R. Morrissey. June 13, 2005. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/government/83/8324gov1.html
- American Chemical Society Lobbies Against a Free NIH Database That It Sees as a Competitor. Chronicle of Higher Education. Eric Wills. June 16, 2005. http://chronicle.com/daily/2005/06/2005061603n.htm
- US Congress fails to back ACS. Information World Review. Bobby Pickering. June 16, 2005. http://www.iwr.co.uk/information-world-review/news/2138139/congress-fails-back-acs
- House May Ask NIH To Limit PubChem. Chemical & Engineering News. Susan Morrissey. June 20, 2005. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/83/i25/8325notw3.html
1Based on statements from ACS principals Madeleine Jacobs, and Dr. William F. Carroll (reported above under Position Statements), this characterization of ACS actions was changed on June 27th, 2005 to "'refocus" and curtail PubChem" from the original use of "shut down."
2Most background information presented in this section is from the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC); communiqué from Director Rick Johnson to SPARC members; May 19, 2005.