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Scientists tout 'open source' drug discovery

Chloe Herrick | March 15, 2012
Applying open source methodology to disease research could speed up the process of drug discovery, according to researchers at the University of Sydney.

"One is that in academia we are rewarded for our publications and the things we put in journals and we have to be in charge of our own publications and produce things from our own private lab because we're competing with each other and we need to be graded in competition with the people around us.

"In an open sharing model it's more difficult to work out who has done what and who is in charge of a certain project and so it goes against the model of academic publishing a because you end up with papers that lots of people have contributed to."

Another issue is the potential for the theft of ideas, he said, with the absence of patents enabling anybody to exploit the work academically or commercially.

"One of the misconceptions about doing work like this is that you can't publish in an academic journal but we've shown that's not the case," he said. "Also in academia in general, you don't publish negative results but we're publishing everything which we think is important and much better for the discipline I think."

Todd has previously applied the open source approach to a project which focused on making a drug for the parasitic disease, Bilharzia.

"We solved that problem much faster because we had everything open source and we had a bunch of advice and help from people, particularly companies," he said. "We discovered the way of making this molecule which is now being looked at by a company to scale up.

"We had about 100 contributions from people from outside of our core team at the University of Sydney and about 75 per cent of these were from industry so the minority of comments were from academia which was surprising, I expected academics to get way behind the project but it's as though they were more secretive than industrialists."


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