Sunday, 28 September 2008

Open Source Drug Discovery: Now Everyone Can Contribute To Drug Research


September 28, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 27: Students, homemakers and common people can now rub shoulders with researchers, technocrats and scientists in India's race to discover new drugs to control a host of diseases afflicting its populations.
Thanks to a new initiative by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, anyone from any part of the world can contribute for the discovery of new medicines for major health problems like tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis and Kala Azar. The Open Source Drug Discovery programme, to be launched formally in Hyderabad on Sunday
coinciding with the Human Genome Meeting here, aims at providing an opportunity to all and sundry to contribute their mite for discovery and development of new drug molecules and ultimately medicines.
The CSIR wants to make drug discovery a public domain and not limited to just a few multinational pharmaceutical companies. The drug molecules discovered and drugs developed through the OSDD initiative will be quite affordable and within the reach of the ordinary citizens, who otherwise do not have access to costly multinational
drugs.
"Debilitating diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and Kala Azar are scars for the tropical countries. No multinational company will invest in drugs for these diseases, because the paying capacity of the afflicted population cannot meet
the expectations of profit. Market mechanisms fail, because the incentives
of innovation are absent. We have to design different paradigm and architecture to tackle the diseases of the common man and the poor man," said Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal.
Delivering the inaugural address at the Human Genome Meeting, organised by
Human Genome Organisation, on Saturday, Kapil Sibal said the OSDD was the raison detre for public funded research to continue in India and the tropical countries.
The Ministry of Science and Technology has drawn inspiration from Human Genome Organisation to conceive the collaborative platform for drug discovery for diseases, otherwise neglected by mainstream pharma industry. The OSDD programme, spearheaded by CSIR as a team-India consortium with global partnership, envisages making
affordable health a reality for the developing world.
"It harnesses the collaborative power of the internet to bring massive
computing ability into the drug discovery process. It is a landmark experiment in democratising research by allowing students, researchers, scientists, traditional healers, doctors, private sector or anyone who wants to participate in this drug discovery process," said Prof Samir Brahmachari, director-general of CSIR.
At present drug discoveries are made within the four walls of pharma laboratories. They maintain a high degree of secrecy and do not involve outsiders. Brahmachari said the OSDD programme was thought of to capture intelligent brains from around the world. He said once drug molecules are discovered, help of charitable organisations would be sought to fund the drug development process.
The programme also aims to apply the knowledge of pharmacogenomics to keep the cost of patent drugs quite low. "We want the system to be a novel web-enabled open source platform by utilising the creative potential of college and university students. The participants will get incentives for their contribution.

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