Open Innovation is a term coined by Henry Chesbrough. The concept essentially means that firms use external and internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market - effectively companies do not rely solely on their own research but incorporate processes or inventions from other entities. Open Source gmeans sharing of that information between parties in the collaboration - in commercial situations normally donate their resulting patent rights, donate to a common pool, or grant unlimited licenses. Open Source has been very important to the development of software and it remains to be seen how it will be adopted in drug development.
The WSJ reported that Glaxo will try a "linux" open-source approach to drug discovery to enable researchers to speed development of new drugs to combat malaria. The company just made designs for 13,500 chemical compounds available to researchers worldwide. The type of "open source" sharing will hopefully allow researchers to develop drugs faster than Glaxo working on its own. The data was generated by screening GSK's library of 2 million compounds for those that inhibited Plasmodium falciparum, the malarial parasite. According to GSK's press release, this is the first time a pharmaceutical company has made so many compounds available free of charge.
The approach isn't new but is one of the largest attempts by a big pharma member to enable open source methods. Other open source efforts include those from the non-profit organization Tropical Disease Initiative, a similar program is operating from an organization in India called Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) that is aimed at combating tuberculosis, and Pfizer made compounds available to researchers at a non-profit called Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative.
Open Source discovery relies heavily on so-called "Virtual Pharma" composed of volunteer researchers, and in particular bright young academics, web-enabled collaboration spaces, chemical, biological and medical databases, and computational and experimental software platforms. This has been enabled greatly by enormous advances in computing power. Normally these programs rely on assistance from goverments, IT giants or philanthropic foundations to supply computer help.
In the case of the GSK effort, three websites are used in the project - two are government funded and one, Collaborative Drug Discovery Inc (CDD), is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The OSDD project relies on help provided by HP, Sun, Infosys and Nobel-winner Medecine sans Frontieres - to develop drugs 'in silico".
This all adds up to a very low cost model - no patents, volunteer labor, powerful database mining and virtual drug design. Increases in computing power and improved computational tools will make these methods even more powerful in the future. Future developments that are still needed, include more work on genomic insights into tropical disease (need more research here), and drug candidates will need to be made available for development and production under open-source licenses.
The model looks feasible and needs to be tested. Then we may find that it is "Open Sesame" to new drugs for treatment of orphan tropical diseases - like malaria. Wouldn't that be a rich reward?
Posted by Bruce Lehr May 27th 2010.