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More On Malaria Open Innovation Announcement

A slew of molecules that might lead to the next antimalarial drug are up for grabs, now that GlaxoSmithKline, the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, and a consortium led by a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital team have released their data into the public domain. As I wrote today, this is great news for the malaria community, which has to do drug discovery on a shoestring compared to, say, the oncology community.

But a large-scale data free-for-all like this one (GlaxoSmithKline says that their collection is the largest one that a pharmaceutical company has made universally available) is bound to set some precedents. We’ve blogged about open innovation for neglected diseases before, noting that skeptics may wonder if these efforts will lead to a warm fuzzy feeling rather than tangible scientific progress.

Researchers need to think carefully about how they release and curate their data so that doesn’t come to pass, says Sean Ekins of Collaborative Drug Discovery, the US-based informatics service provider that is one of the hosts for GSK’s dataset. Collaborative Drug Discovery (CDD) is a spinout of Eli Lilly & Company that is now working with the Gates Foundation to foster collaboration and open innovation approaches for tuberculosis, while CDD are also working with researchers on other neglected diseases. CDD worked closely with GSK to make the malaria data broadly available to the scientific community.

“How can we ensure that the next datasets that come through will have a high value? How can we avoid False positive and false negative issues in assays?” Ekins asks. The issues he raises, to me, are similar to the ones Derek Lowe brought up a few months back, when GSK first announced they would be making their data public.

Another important issue that still needs examining is that of coordination, Ekins adds. Consortia and public-private partnerships have emerged to fill up the thin malaria pipeline, but there is still more that can be done, he says.

“The bigger picture here should be the acceleration of hits to drugs,” Ekins says. “How this data will work to catalyze malaria drug discovery is a matter of discussion, but releasing the data is an important first step.”

On a related note, on our previous open innovation blog entry Jean-Claude Bradley commented: “Are the biotechs trying to generate any income from participating – or is this strictly a humanitarian contribution?”

I don’t know about every case, but for this case I asked GSK: Suppose one of these compounds is successful in clinical trials and becomes a bona fide drug one day. How are the rights to the compound distributed?

Here’s the reply I got from the company.
GSK would hope that scientists will contribute any new findings/data to the online data source and to donate any IP into a patent pool for diseases of the developing world. We will have the principles of use including our approach to IP outlined on the websites where the data will be hosted. We would hope that anyone generating knowledge from this or IP would comply with the spirit of our initiative.

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