Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from Erika Jonietz

Open-Source Drugs?

The open-source model has turned software production on its head; the decentralized, collaborative process in which anyone can look at, modify, or improve the “source code” of a computer program, provided they agree to share their modifications under the same…

  • June 11, 2004

The open-source model has turned software production on its head; the decentralized, collaborative process in which anyone can look at, modify, or improve the “source code” of a computer program, provided they agree to share their modifications under the same terms, has resulted in some impressive software–Linux being the best-known example. Now biomedical researchers are beginning to question whether a similar approach could benefit drug development, according to The Economist.

At this week’s BIO 2004, a major biotech industry conference, Stephen Maurer, Arti Rai and Andrej Sali–two lawyers and a computational biologist–presented a paper calling for an open-source approach to invent drugs to fight tropical diseases. The group’s Tropical Disease Initiative would have researchers volunteer their expertise, collaborate on experiments, and post all data openly, much as happened in the Human Genome Project. However, while researchers would self-organize the direction of studies, much as happens on open-source software projects, drug development is a far more expensive undertaking than software development. The authors acknowledge that government or other major funding would be necessary to get the project going. In addition, any drug to come out of the project would go in the public domain, for generic manufacturers to produce, ensuring its availability to the most people at the lowest cost.

The idea is catching on in the biomedical research community; several other groups have adopted similar strategies. Experts see two area that could particularly benefit: discovering new applications for non-patentable compounds and drugs whose patents have expired, and developing treatments for diseases that afflict small numbers of people, such as Parkinson’s disease, or are found mainly in poor countries, such as malaria. Open source may be an idea whose time has come, for more than just computer geeks.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.