Open Source Drug Development Manifesto?

James Gillespie, President, Center for Healthcare Innovation

Salil Kallianpur, Pharmaceutical Marketing Professional, India

The pharmaceutical industry of the future will require, at least in part, a robust, globally accessible informatics infrastructure available to industry, academic, regulators, and NGOs.  In some cases, accessibility may even be extended to patients.  The system will need to be flexible enough to permit rapid and accurate data sharing among disparate actors, systems, and institutions.  This innovation and collaborative thinking is already being applied in isolated cases.  For example, Pfizer, UK National Health Service trusts, Scottish Enterprise, and Scottish universities started a Translational Medicine Research Collaboration applying these principles to create a mini global network.  However, what is needed is a truly global network that includes multiple large bio-pharma companies, in addition to many other actors from the private, public, and NGO sectors.

One way to facilitate that would be for life sciences companies to make certain portions of their IT systems open source, which would facilitate development of best practice standards around annotation, compliance, and security.  In the context of the IT industry, in February of 2001, a small group of software developers met at a Utah ski resort in to discuss lightweight software development methods.  In the wake of their discussion, they signed and published the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” to define the approach now famously known as agile software development. Some of the manifesto’s authors subsequently formed the Agile Alliance, a nonprofit organization promoting software development in line with the manifesto’s principles.  The life sciences industry might be well served to adopt something similar:  To wit, a select group of life sciences leaders, with a skew toward IT, come together to articulate, sign onto, and publish a set of principles to guide open source IT systems specific to the life sciences industry.

In an ideal world, the open source IT-oriented manifesto for the life sciences industry would be extended to cover basic drug discovery and development (i.e., the R&D side of the industry).  Thus, the eventual open source manifesto for the life sciences industry would encompass all major relevant aspects of developing drugs.

And even if these more programmatic steps never occur, the industry does need at least an informal “manifesto” to guide and inspire open source efforts in IT, R&D and other areas.

Will open source ever become the dominant modality in the life sciences industry?  For financial, logical, and liability reasons, that is highly unlikely, and it’s not even clear if that would be entirely socially beneficial if that did occur.  However, we are suggesting that a global modular open source network, encompassing dozens of major bio-pharma companies and other actors, should be created as one of the tools in the arsenal for helping improve humanity via pharmaceutical products.

www.chipress.org

www.salilkallianpur.wordpress.com

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