Wall Street Journal Examines GSK’s Open-Source Development For Drug Discovery Plan

The Wall Street Journal examines GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) plan to share its database of compounds that could treat tropical diseases. The initiative will test how well “open-source principles work for developing new drugs,” the newspaper reports.

“The pharmaceutical giant last week opened to the public the designs behind 13,500 chemical compounds that it said may be capable of inhibiting the [Plasmodium] parasite that causes malaria,” the newspaper writes. “Glaxo and others hope that sharing information and working together will lead scientists to come up with a drug for treating the mosquito-borne disease faster than the company could on its own.”

The company’s plan, which the newspaper describes as “one of the largest experiments yet by the pharmaceutical industry to apply techniques of open-source development to drug discovery … builds off earlier open-source drug efforts that included a nonprofit organization called Tropical Disease Initiative and a project started last year that opens compounds from Pfizer Inc. to researchers at a nonprofit called Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative,” the newspaper continues.

The article describes how researchers will be able to access GSK’s data on one of three websites, including a site produced by a company called Collaborative Drug Discovery Inc. (CDD), which also provides a database for researchers to upload their data to be viewed by other researchers for free.

The newspaper details the complexity of sifting through thousands of molecules capable of inhibiting the Plasmodium parasite to a few candidates for a malaria drug, noting “[a]ny compound that proves promising in the current effort will take years of testing and investment to turn it into a malaria drug. … Glaxo says that it won’t seek patents on any malaria drug that the compounds yield, and hopes other researchers will also donate their intellectual property to a patent pool for so-called neglected diseases like malaria.”

The article includes comments from representatives at GSK, as well as several experts who weigh in on whether the open-sourcing of potential treatments for neglected diseases might change the way all drugs are developed (Guth, 5/26).