Support the Long-Term Future of KEGG

The KEGG database is an invaluable resource for biologists, bioinformaticians, clinical researchers, chemists etc. in general and has also been invaluable in some of my personal activities. KEGG is developed in the laboratory of Minoru Kanehisa who is now coming up towards his mandatory retirement. And he is looking to put KEGG on a sustainable footing and to give it a viable business model for the future. The following is a complete reproduction (though no explicit licence for reuse is provided I claim fair use) of a recent post on the KEGG website:

Plea to Support KEGG

Since 1995 the KEGG database has been developed in my laboratories (Kanehisa Laboratories) at Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo thanks to funding from the Japanese Ministry of Education and its agencies. Contrary to popular perception, KEGG has never been a public database, as there has never been an official long-term commitment from any government agency. Although I have managed over the years to obtain multiple and overlapping short-term research grants to support KEGG, this has become more difficult now that I am reaching the mandatory retirement age. Foreseeing this eventuality, together with my colleagues, I started a non-profit organization, NPO Bioinformatics Japan, as a vehicle to raise funds for the service that we have been delivering.

For the last ten years our major source of funding has come from the Institute for Bioinformatics Research and Development (BIRD) of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). As of April 1, 2011 BIRD has been converted to the National Bioscience Database Center (NBDC) in JST. The newly established NBDC focuses on the integration of various databases, and does not support the development of individual databases as BIRD did. The good news is that I was awarded a three-year grant from NBDC for integration of KEGG MEDICUS with disease and drug information used in practice and in society. However, the bad news is that this grant is not sufficient to continue to hire my talented crew of KEGG curators and software developers.

KEGG is now one of the most widely used biological databases in the world as indicated by the web access statistics (150 to 200 thousand unique visitors per month) and the number of KEGG paper citations (one thousand per year). I intend to ensure that KEGG remains a freely available web resource. However, this will be possible only with your support. First, I would like to ask all of you who have benefited from KEGG to write, email, tweet, and blog about your support for KEGG. I hope, in the long run, your voices will increase our chances of getting more stable funding. Second, we will continue to ask commercial organizations to obtain a license to use KEGG from Pathway Solutions Inc. I am very grateful to all the companies who have so far supported KEGG by obtaining license agreements. This licensing revenue is fully reinvested to further the development of KEGG. Unfortunately though, this is still insufficient to maintain the high-quality service that we strive to accomplish. Consequently, I would like to introduce the following mechanism.

Starting on July 1, 2011 the KEGG FTP site for academic users will be transferred from GenomeNet at Kyoto University to NPO Bioinformatics Japan, and it will be available only to paid subscribers. The publicly funded portion, the medicusdirectory, will continue to be freely accessible at GenomeNet. The KEGG FTP site for commercial customers managed by Pathway Solutions will remain unchanged. The new FTP site is available for free trial until the end of June.

Please register to learn more about the KEGG FTP subscription.

Thank you!

Minoru Kanehisa

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