Can Open Source Defeat the Scourge of Tuberculosis?

The Open Source Drug Discovery Project is applying open source principles to smash barriers and accelerate drug research for diseases like TB which still kills 1.7 million people a year.

The Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) program, a CSIR-led Team India consortium is leading the way in bringing open source collaboration techniques to drug research and health care. Their mission is to hasten the development of drugs and treatments for tropical diseases which have not gotten adequate attention from the "closed door" pharmaceutical industry.

These tropical diseases which primarily effect people in 22 countries cause millions of deaths and untold suffering every year. Tuberculosis alone kills 1.7 million people every year. The OSDD has designated TB as its first target for this reason.

There have been virtually no new drugs to fight TB since the 1960's. At this point one in 4 cases of TB are resistant to present drug therapy. Each person untreated will infect 10 to 15 other people. One third of the world's people are now infected!

The OSDD team sponsored a Connect2Decode conference that several hundred Indian scientists attended. The result was that the TB genome, though decoded almost 10 years ago is now re-annotated.  This information is available on a server operated by OSDD. Any company, researcher or anyone seeking this information has access to it.

The OSDD hopes that this will facilitate and accelerate the development of custom molecules which will be designed to disable and defeat the TB bug. Besides TB, diseases such as Malaria, Leshmaniasis and African Sleeping Disease will also be targeted.

The OSDD has a very detailed methodology of work packages. This diagram highlights it:

Also how researchers and contributors are rewarded is also covered under a system where they receive points and credits under a pre-defined system to reach certain levels.

I think this is a great use of open source methods in an area of science that is a natural to benefit from it. I also really like the idea of giving people credit for the work they do on these projects. I am hoping that the OSDD model will lead to real breakthroughs to lesson the suffering from these terrible diseases.

Next time you are arguing about Linux vs Windows, remember there is more to open source than software!


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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