Why We Need Open Source Pharma
BY DIMITRIOS TZALIS
Over the last century, the pharmaceutical industry has consistently met the medical needs of developed societies, but played a detrimental role in tackling major diseases. This shortage of innovation stems partially from the industry's increased protectionism of their ongoing research. In the process, they have accumulated significant know-how about patient-oriented research and established enhanced project management skills to improve efficiencies in the entire drug development cycle—a very complex process, which combines an eclectic mix of players, namely, hospitals, patients, universities government bodies, and regulatory commissions. In order to tackle this complexity together with the increasing challenge of global disease management, the pharmaceutical industry is being forced to scout solutions beyond their industry walls by tapping into alternate pools of creativity and know-how.
One major factor leading to escalating costs in the drug discovery process is the redundancy of experimentation in scientific and clinical research, which in turn sets off a chain reaction of rising costs in the entire global healthcare industry, rendering healthcare unaffordable even in developed countries.
The most recent business model of compensating for a lack of innovation by offering highly priced drugs is not a sustainable one. The new model of open innovation, however, must lean on the past pharmaceutical model of addressing and discovering a cure for a multitude of medical needs by offering drugs at affordable prices. It logically follows that this can only be achieved by pooling and extracting the maximum amount of scientific data ever produced in the pharmaceutical industry.
Having recognized this unfavorable turn of events, some pharmaceutical giants are on the verge of divulging an enormous treasure chest of knowledge and data, not only to each other, but also to the entire academic community, to ensure the fullest utilization of their collective knowledge for the benefit of humankind.
This giant step forward in open source pharma and crowdsourced science will eventually result in more, affordable drug prices and play a pivotal role in the survival of pharmaceutical companies on the forefront of healthcare development.
Opening up the wealth of experience and data acquired over recent decades will ensure that the innovation pipeline is filled with new drugs addressing pressing medical issues, not only in the developed world but also in developing and underdeveloped countries. The onset of this trend can be seen, for example, in the European Lead Factory (an Innovative Medicines Initiative IMI-1 Call) effort, where seven pharma companies are creating a pooled compound library to share with the wider scientific community and getting it screened, free of cost, to produce potential drug candidates. Another example is the agreement between the Medical Research Council of the UK and seven pharmaceutical companies to investigate and re-purpose compounds that are not effective or fully effective against initially targeted diseases but with potential use against other diseases.
Dimitrios Tzalis is the Founder & CEO of Taros Chemicals GmbH & Co. KG. He is @dtzalis_tzalis on Twitter.
Other essays in this series:
James Kassaga Arinaitwe, Global Health Corps & Aspen Institute Fellow / Kampala
Manica Balasegaram, Exec. Director, Access Campaign, Médecins Sans Frontières / Geneva
Polly J. Price, Emory University law professor / Atlanta
John Wilbanks, Chief Commons Officer, Sage Bionetworks / Washington, D.C.
T.V. Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Manipal Global Education Services / Bangalore
Els Torreele, Director, Access to Essential Medicines Initiative, Open Society Foundations / NYC
Tomasz Sablinski, CEO of Transparency Life Sciences / NYC
Zakir Thomas, Open innovation expert & former Project Director of OSDD / Delhi
Matthew Todd, Founder of Open Source Malaria / Sydney & Cambridge