'Open source' urged for TB drug design effort
[NEW DELHI] One of India's top genetics researchers has called for a global, collaborative effort to design a new tuberculosis (TB) drug using an 'open source' approach.
Samir Brahmachari — recently appointed director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), a chain of 38 government laboratories engaged in industry-oriented research — made the proposal at a meeting on science and innovation in Delhi last week (22 November).
He said that conducting such a project openly could lead to drugs that were more affordable to the world's poor.
Brahmachari, who was previously director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, suggested an openly accessible website through which researchers could explore how information about the Mycobacterium tuberculosis genome and other scientific data could be used to design new TB drugs.
According to his proposal, the problems of drug design could be divided into a number of work packages, each tackled by different teams of researchers, who would then make their proposed solutions freely available to others for comment.
Once potential solutions have been identified, the pharmaceutical industry would be able to incorporate these into the development of new candidate drugs and take them through clinical testing, just as the computer industry makes use of open source software (such as Linux) in the design of new computer programmes.
Brahmachari highlighted how TB continues to claim over 7,000 lives daily across the world, mostly affecting the poor.
"The right to good health is a right for all," he said. "How much [of new medical research findings] should be protected and how much should be made open access is a matter that should be debated."
Brahmachari said that his proposals for an 'open source' approach were in the spirit of the original human genome project, where information was placed on an open database freely accessible to scientists across the world.
"Can we create for infectious diseases an 'open source' mobilisation that will allow us to use the brainpower of the whole world, including both experienced and young researchers, to advance the process of drug discovery?" he asked.
"Once we do this, we can start conquering other diseases using the same 'open source' model," he added.
Dinesh Abrol, a scientist with the National Institute for Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS) in New Delhi, cautioned that an open source approach to designing new drugs for infectious diseases should not be misused by large pharmaceutical corporations to later patent products developed with help from the open source databases.
The meeting at which Brahmachari spoke was organised by NISTADS to present to Indian science policymakers the outcome of a research project into current trends in science and innovation in China, India and South Korea, compiled by the London-based think-tank Demos.