First open source malaria publication describes new way to do drug discovery

More than 50 researchers from 21 organizations in eight countries participated in this project

14 Sep 2016

Today in ACS Central Science an international consortium of researchers, led by Prof. Matthew Todd from the University of Sydney with support from MMV, unveils the mechanics and findings of a unique open-science project for malaria drug discovery that has been 5 years in the making.

This open-science project is similar to the open-source concept used in software development where it is claimed that "with enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow". By analogy, conducting a drug discovery project in a totally open manner should lead to problems being characterized quickly and the fix being obvious to someone with prior experience in the field.

More than 50 researchers from 21 organizations in eight countries added their research to the project. The chemical starting point was selected from a large set of malaria active molecules, identified through a collaborative screening venture between MMV and GlaxoSmithKline and made public by the pharma company.

Anyone willing to contribute – anywhere in the world – was welcome to share data, conduct experiments and collaborate by adding comments to a project website. Some scientists designed and synthesized new generations of the antimalarial compounds; others ran assays and interpreted results. Several rounds of research were conducted – all with the data being made public in real time.

The scientists working as part of this Open Source Malaria consortium, from Professors through to undergraduates, participated by choice, agreeing that no one would individually seek patents to protect their contributions.

“This publication demonstrates that open source drug discovery can work,” said Dr Timothy Wells, MMV’s Chief Scientific Officer. “There is a huge amount of goodwill and intellectual input and this publication is just the start. We look forward to working with partners like Mat to continue to develop this new open approach to drug discovery, with the ultimate goal of identifying a new drug candidate.”

The authors note that the current results, while promising, are merely the beginning of the story, and continue to welcome additional contributions to the ongoing open source research.