In 2011, MMV launched the Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) programme working with scientists initially in Australia and then in India. OSDD differs from traditional drug discovery, which is commercially driven and typically conducted behind closed doors with limited information released into the public domain until patents are published.
Given the minimal commercial value of new medicines against malaria and neglected diseases, we have an opportunity to explore how this paradigm can be changed. Dr Tanjore Balganesh explains how open source research is taking off in India. (2013)
1. What are the objectives of India’s OSDD model?
The ultimate objective is to provide affordable health care to patients. To that end, OSDD consolidates research for new therapies for neglected diseases (malaria, tuberculosis and leishmaniasis). The idea is that the products developed will be licenced to India’s Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), and then to the generics industry without royalties, which will help keep the cost of the medicine low and increase patient access.
2. How can scientists participate in OSDD?
We employ a crowdsourcing model: CSIR-funded scientists working to discover promising molecules, share their results and problems via an online platform. Researchers from around the world, from product development partnerships, small and large pharma – basically anyone with an interest in the research – offer their advice via the platform.
3. What are the advantages of the model?
The major advantage is increased scientific capability as it brings more minds together. Also, because the model uses public funds the final products will be affordable. We hope that the platform will encourage the formation of new research collaborations.
4. How do you encourage scientists to join the platform?
We offer scientists the opportunity to screen their molecules free of charge. We have built speciality centres where they can get specific information on their compounds. We hope to do the same for malaria in the next 6 months. We also offer opportunities to collaborate with other scientists: consultants and experts who can help expedite their work. We simply request that if they use the facilities they share their data.
5. What will success look like?
The first success we are hoping for in 2013 is to set up facilities in India where scientists can conduct clinical research studies for TB, malaria and neglected diseases. Today, in India, there are limited public or private institutions where you can do so. I strongly believe that once these platforms have been set up it will encourage further research and incentivize biotech and pharma companies to re-evaluate molecules previously deemed low-priority, as it will cost little. This will be the first step to establishing drug research excellence in India.
6. What’s the advantage of working with MMV?
MMV offers us access to high-quality expertise via its global networks. MMV has the best experience in progressing molecules in malaria. OSDD would like to tap into that experience and learn from it. I think our success is very much dependent on MMV’s contribution. If you take MMV off the OSDD radar it’s a recipe for failure.
I’ve worked with MMV for many years, and the key thing it offers is the culture of collaboration. The people are really great to work with. I have worked with Tim Wells and Jeremy Burrows on MMV’s science team and know I can pick up the phone and say, “Jeremy, I have a problem” and he will help. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t work.