Pharma's Future: Open-Source R&D

Aug 26, 2010

The future of pharmaceutical R&D may lie in open-source research, with key data being made available to a number of people, including college students and university researchers, in an open and collaborative process. Open-source drug development would leverage an online community of computer users worldwide.

Although the idea of the traditionally reserved and secretive pharma industry adopting such an open R&D process may seem farfetched, a consortium has already been developed to achieve this. The Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) Consortium was launched in 2008 and includes more than 3000 people from 74 countries. People can participate in the programme by logging on to the website.

“Most drug discoveries are made in a closed-door environment in which pharmaceutical companies keep drug development information under wraps and limit participation of the academic world,” Samir Brahmachari, project director of OSDD, explained, according to a statement from the American Chemical Society (ACS). “The OSDD program aims to address this issue by attempting to attract the youngest and brightest minds around the globe to be part of the drug discovery movement.”

According to the ACS release, a dozen reports on open-source R&D will be presented at the upcoming ACS meeting.

“I believe this is the way to go about not only drug discovery, but it may be a way of doing science in the future,” said Brahmachari.

Indeed, this view was echoed in Ernst & Young’s Progressions: Pharma 3.0 report, which discusses the changing landscape and business of pharmaceuticals. As part of the report, Ernst & Young conducted a roundtable with a number of pharmaceutical experts. During the roundtable, David Norton, company group chairman, Pharmaceutical Group, at Johnson & Johnson explained that open source may be the future of pharma. “Five to 10 years from now, there will be open-source medical research,” he said. “Now that horrifies medical researchers because it raises several issues, such as how to establish clinical validity, but the benefits are compelling.”

“There’s more data out there than we are currently capturing in records,” Kristin Peck, Company Senior Vice President, Strategy and Innovation, at Pfizer added in the roundtable. “There’s a real-world need for real-world data.”

At the moment, the OSDD is hoping to be able to develop a new drug for tuberculosis and, indeed, the organisation has already provided a comprehensive map of the genome of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes the disease. However, participants in the Ernst & Young roundtable believe that open-source R&D still has even more to offer in that it could lead to better health overall.

“Five years from now, we’ll have millions and millions of genomes and associated phenotypic information. And people will routinely monitor their health-related behaviour and outcomes—from weight fluctuations to blood pressure and more,” said Norton. “If we can build this huge database—of self-reported patient data, physician observations, lab findings and other objective data—you could, over time, for example, determine common attributes for people who survived 10 years of pancreatic cancer.”

Peck also added: “Because many do not consider this pool of nontraditional data to have validity, it is often ignored. Yet five years from now, this data will probably prove to be just as significant as the traditional-source data that we use today.”

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