19 April 2010

Open Source Drug Discovery

One of the inspirations for free software was the scientific method. So it's deeply ironic that science finds itself increasingly unable to share information because of concerns about intellectual monopolies - either infringing on them, or losing the power to create them. This is particularly tragic in the field of medical research, because it means that people are suffering, maybe even dying, as a result.

Against that rather dismal background, here's a ray of hope from India:

OSDD is a CSIR Team India Consortium with Global Partnership with a vision to provide affordable healthcare to the developing world by providing a global platform where the best minds can collaborate & collectively endeavor to solve the complex problems associated with discovering novel therapies for neglected tropical diseases like Malaria, Tuberculosis, Leshmaniasis, etc. It is a concept to collaboratively aggregate the biological and genetic information available to scientists in order to use it to hasten the discovery of drugs. This will provide a unique opportunity for scientists, doctors, technocrats, students and others with diverse expertise to work for a common cause.

The success of Open Source models in Information Technology (For e.g., Web Technology, The Linux Operating System) and Biotechnology (For e.g., Human Genome Sequencing) sectors highlights the urgent need to initiate a similar model in healthcare, i.e., an Open Source model for Drug Discovery.

This is a great idea, especially for a country like India that has much to gain from opening up the world of drug development so that people can collaborate on that "common cause", and from refusing to pay exorbitant intellectual monopoly taxes.

It's already produced results:

Indian scientists have mapped the Mycobacterium tuberculosis genome, a first of its kind achievement that gives hope of discovering a cost effective drug for the disease that kills at least 330,000 Indians every year.

"Our scientists along with over 100 science students from several universities have done this within a few months. We hope within 18-24 months we will be able to take one molecule to the clinical trial stage," Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) chief Samir Bramhachari told IANS.


"OSDD is a completely new formula across the world. Here we are making all our progress available to public. Anyone can take advantage and develop a drug based on our research. The aim here is not patents but drug discovery for a neglected disease," said Rajesh Gokhle, a senior scientist associated with the project.

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