Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Open Source for Cost Effective Drug Discovery

Dr. Samir K

the new Director-General of the CSIR is all set to unleash the open source revolution in drug discovery and biotechnology. The Economic Times Reports: “For the first time ever, India plans to launch an innovate drug discovery programme roping in global IT firms, researchers, companies, and young minds at scientific laboratories to invent drugs at a fraction of the cost of an MNC-developed drug. Drug discovery has hitherto been the forte of MNC pharma giants.The government has begun discussions with Sun Microsystems to set up web-management tools for an ‘open source’ drug discovery project, which works similar to a popular online encyclopaedia formed by articles contributed and edited by the brightest minds worldwide.

The first project would be to develop medicines for tuberculosis and later extend to other diseases like malaria and AIDS.Under the proposed project, researchers attached to institutions like the Royal Society of UK, Imperial College of London, Medicine Sans Frontiers and various Indian universities will have an opportunity to work on a drug discovery process even at an individual level. What’s more, the contribution would also fetch reward and recognition. Corporates like the Kinetic Group, entities like the Welcome Trust and various corporate groups would sponsor these rewards.

The project is likely to be implemented either by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) itself or the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology.‘We have already built a database of the requirements for developing drugs for infectious diseases. This would be hosted online, where individual experts could contribute in solving specific aspects of the drug discovery. Specific contracts will then be assigned to individual contract manufacturers and clinical research organisations,’ the project’s architect and CSIR’s new director general Samir K Brahmachari told ET.

‘The chemical entities thus developed will instantly become generics as the knowledge will be in public domain. This is diametrically opposite to the concept of intellectual property protection, which involves legal expenses to bar others from applying their minds on the invention,’ Mr Brahmachari said. Mr Brahmachari also heads the department of industrial research. ‘When a thousand young students contribute in solving a complex puzzle, we are empowering them to be the knowledge leaders of tomorrow.

For researchers at state-owned laboratories, it offers an exiting challenge of social importance,’ he added. It is likely that generics makers, like Ranbaxy and Cipla, could be more interested, than MNCs, as it would be volume-based. MNCs are more keen on low-volume high-value brands.If successful, the project would also challenge MNC drug makers claims that they invest billions of dollars in risky experiments hoping to develop one useful drug.

The project will get one-third funding from the government, one-third from international sources and the rest from philanthropic entities.” Sounds like a fantastic idea! Dr. Brahmachari’s open source strategy appears not only to challenge the notion that patents are necessary for innovation, but also the notion that investment for mass production needs monopoly incentives through patents. Look out for Spicy IP’s interview with Dr. Brahmachari in the coming week!

No comments: