[Ip-health] Wall Street Journal: Glaxo Tries a Linux Approach

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu May 27 21:35:54 PDT 2010


<SNIP>

In software, the approach has spawned the Linux operating system,  
MySQL database and an array of other programs. Those community-born  
technologies now compete with products from Microsoft Corp., Oracle  
Corp. and other traditional, commercial software makers. Open-source  
developers share programming instructions called source code that  
software companies traditionally kept confidential.
Similarly, large pharmaceutical companies tightly guard their formulas  
for drugs and other intellectual property. Any given chemical compound  
holds the potential to be a blockbuster drug—and a cash cow, like  
Microsoft's Windows software. But diseases like malaria afflict mainly  
poor populations, and drugs to treat them don't hold the promise for  
such a big payoff—making experiments like Glaxo's less risky.


<SNIP>

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. If the Glaxo compounds are used to develop a  
drug for other types of diseases, then the company "would consider"  
the intellectual-property issues, a Glaxo spokeswoman said.

----

	• TECH JOURNAL
	• MAY 26, 2010

Glaxo Tries a Linux Approach Drug Maker Shares Its Research Data  
Online in Test of Open-Source Principles

By ROBERT A. GUTH
A decade ago, the Linux operating system helped spark a revolution in  
how software is developed. A move by GlaxoSmithKline PLC could test  
how well similar open-source principles work for developing new drugs.

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 parasite that causes malaria.

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. Other  
researchers "may look at these structures in quite a different way and  
see something that we don't," said Nick Cammack, head of Glaxo's  
Medicines Development Campus in Spai

Two government websites and one private site will host Glaxo's data.  
Above, containers used by Glaxo researchers to test the effect that  
chemical compounds have on the malaria parasite.

The move is one of the largest experiments yet by the pharmaceutical  
industry to apply techniques of open-source development to drug  
discovery, based on the idea that collaboration by volunteers will  
create products that aren't owned by a single company.

In software, the approach has spawned the Linux operating system,  
MySQL database and an array of other programs. Those community-born  
technologies now compete with products from Microsoft Corp., Oracle  
Corp. and other traditional, commercial software makers. Open-source  
developers share programming instructions called source code that  
software companies traditionally kept confidential.

Similarly, large pharmaceutical companies tightly guard their formulas  
for drugs and other intellectual property. Any given chemical compound  
holds the potential to be a blockbuster drug—and a cash cow, like  
Microsoft's Windows software. But diseases like malaria afflict mainly  
poor populations, and drugs to treat them don't hold the promise for  
such a big payoff—making experiments like Glaxo's less risky.

The Glaxo effort 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 Glaxo data will be hosted by three websites, two of which are  
government-funded (one in the U.S. and one in Europe). The third is a  
Silicon Valley company called Collaborative Drug Discovery Inc. CDD,  
as it is called, was spun off in 2004 from drug maker Eli Lilly & Co.  
and has funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Founders  
Fund, a venture-capital firm.

CDD's Web service combines elements of a Facebook-like social network  
with an Oracle-style database. Any researcher who registers on the CDD  
site will be able to see graphical depictions of Glaxo's compounds and  
relevant chemical and biological data. The database will allow them to  
upload their own data to be viewed by other researchers.

The service is free of charge. If a researcher wants to combine the  
data with proprietary information, CDD alsooffers a fee-based, secure  
version of its site that allows researchers to lock up information  
they want to keep secret.

Developing a new drug is a trial-and-error process of testing which  
chemical compounds produce a certain effect on a biological target. In  
the case of malaria, the target can be the Plasmodium parasite that  
causes the deadly disease or human red-blood cells that it needs to  
survive. Over the past year, Glaxo has tested two million compounds,  
culling the 13,500 molecules that it says have some effect. However,  
narrowing down the compounds to a handful that might yield a drug is  
an increasingly complex process.Any 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. If the Glaxo compounds are used to develop a  
drug for other types of diseases, then the company "would consider"  
the intellectual-property issues, a Glaxo spokeswoman said.

Researchers including James McKerrow, a professor at the University of  
California, San Francisco, have used CDD since 2007 to share data  
about diseases including malaria and schistosomiasis, a parasite that  
can cause liver and kidney damage. The group shared data on tens of  
thousands of compounds to speed up the process of picking a handful of  
compounds (for diseases such as malaria) that are the best options to  
try on animals, Dr. McKerrow said.

Barry Bunin, CDD's chief executive, believes that the work on  
neglected diseases is a precursor for big pharmaceutical companies to  
eventually use the open-source techniques for developing commercial  
drugs.

Some drug experts doubt that will happen. The reasons include the  
nettlesome problem of managing intellectual property and various  
uncertainties. Any given compound, for example, could wind up  
affecting more diseases than expected and turn out to be more valuable  
than expected. Glaxo, for instance, found that drugs that inhibited  
growth of the parasite that causes malaria were of a type that is also  
marketed to treat cancer.

"I think that's a potentially interesting model but I don't think for- 
profit institutions would participate," says Brendan O'Leary, general  
partner at Prism Venture Management, a venture-capital firm that  
invests in life-sciences companies.

Yet Glaxo'sMr. Cammack doesn't rule it out. He hopes the open-source  
work will influence Glaxo more broadly in the future, particularly  
given the challenges big pharmaceuticalcompanies face in launching new  
drugs. "The pharmaceutical industry needs to look at lots of ways of  
doing business in the future," he said.

Write to Robert A. Guth at rob.guth at wsj.com


------------------------------------------------------------


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org


Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997








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