Open Source Drug Information May Take the World by Storm

The question of privacy online is heating up when it comes to open source work – on developing drugs.

The online world is indeed getting more and more sophisticated, particularly when it comes to using open-source collaborative efforts to develop programs. The most well-known example of that would be Open Office, much the same as MS Word, but users seem to feel it’s easier to use. In addition to that observation, it is also constantly updated, because it’s open source, and it’s free. You can’t beat that as a major motivator to use it.

Over ten years ago, Linux was the first company to drive the revolution to open source technology and now, a drug company is dipping its toes into the open source waters for developing a new drug. GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) is on the cutting edge of what may be the latest in creating new drugs quickly in response to perceived threats to humanity.

Just recently, GSK allowed the public to access the designs for about 13,500 chemical compounds that it feels may inhibit the parasite that causes malaria. The idea here is that by sharing information and partnering with others, scientists may find the right combination faster than if they were trying to do it by themselves.

It’s certainly not too far-fetched to think that everyone who sees the chemical compounds are going to see them they same way GSK scientists do. Often innovation and success comes from pooling the ideas and expertise from others with different approaches. At the moment, two government websites and one private one will act as hosts for the data.

This step forward into sharing what has previously been a deep, dark company secret may open the doors to the creation of drugs that are not owned by a single company. That in itself would be a giant step forward for the global community. Would it mean they would lose money or are we seeing the greening of a global sense of community responsibility for everyone affected by disease?

Interestingly, drug formulas are typically tightly guarded trade secrets and often end up being blockbuster sellouts with billions being made for the drug company. Is GSK about to give that potential up in this experiment? Chances are the answer is no, largely because malaria usually plagues poor countries and drugs for those countries aren’t famous for providing a large payback, thus reducing the drug company’s risk.

Just when you’d think Microsoft would have nothing to do with a venture of this type, up pops the information that one of the three websites hosting this open source effort is called Collaborative Drug Discovery, an Eli Lilly & Co spin off with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Flounders Fund.

While the current drug information sharing is being done to experiment with “neglected” diseases, there is some speculation this process may be viable for developing commercial drugs. That might be a bit of a stretch for the simple reason that intellectual property issues would need to be dealt with before anyone could proceed. No matter what the outcome of “this” experiment in camaraderie, it may turn out to be “the” way of doing business in the future.

To learn more about David Alden Erikson, Attorney at Law, visit Mr. Erikson specializes in Los Angeles fashion law, internet law, business litigation, trademark and copyright law.

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