Open Source Drug Discovery for Malaria Meeting - February 2012 - Why?

Published by MatTodd on 7 April 2012 - 12:47pm



In August 2011 my lab started an open source drug discovery for malaria project. We’ve been a) very excited about this idea, and b) very busy getting things started. It’s an unusual project, exciting not only because we might be able to change the world, but because it’s not clear how we might do it. To me, that’s the definition of good research – you not only don’t know whether it’s going to work, but you don’t even know how to go about doing it.
We had previously found the experience of open science exhilarating, in that the free sharing of all our data and ideas had accelerated a different research project. With new funding for open science we were able to start on drug discovery. Now there has been an Indian OSDD effort that has to date focussed primarily on TB bioinformatics, and who are now moving towards drug discovery (in TB and malaria about which more later). There is the newly-announced Transparency Life Sciences, and Cinderella Therapeutics who are making moves to open up the process of clinical development of compounds. There’s the broad biology-data perspective being championed so effectively by Sage. These are all wonderful, wonderful developments – I hope we are the start, together, of a very significant shift not only in drug development but generally in how we do things as human beings. But I’d felt there was still no basic project in open source drug discovery – something that put medchem and open source together to see what happened, and which started very much from the ground up – making molecules and getting people involved in something specific as a kernel. Tim Wells at the Medicines for Malaria Venture agreed, and we got going in August. We then received [MMV+Aussie Government] funding to 2015. To read what’s going on stay tuned to The Synaptic Leap, G+, OWW and Twitter since things are happening fast and we seriously need people to add momentum.
Over the course of 2011, when describing this project to people, no matter who it was, I would get very high levels of engagement. People wanted to know what osdd was, how it could possibly work, who would pay for it, what happens to intellectual property – a long list of questions. I had answers for some, not for others. I decided it would be a good idea to have a meeting, and one that had a loose agenda, since I have completely converted to unconferences after realising how stale regular conferences can be. I asked Sydney Uni for some money, which they gave me (thank you DVC International for the IPDF scheme), and I started setting up a one-day meeting on open source drug discovery for malaria – to ask in the most general sense whether it can be done. I asked a broad range of people to come and talk about what they thought was interesting. This really is the key to a meeting – you organise coffee, identify good people and say to them “Tell me what’s interesting.”
We met in Sydney on February 24th 2012 and had a fascinating day, then sunset beers in Glebe and dinner. The day was streamed live online. All the talks were recorded. We’re now posting them on YouTube and will annotate them to highlight key points - the links will appear below. If you’ve comments or suggestions please don’t hesitate to write on the relevant posts or on the original YouTube pages. I hope the talks are a way of focussing discussion on the most significant ideas.
The arguments about whether osdd is possible are surprising and astonishing. Not because they are radical, but because osdd is so simple, at heart. Of course as things currently stand osdd is extraordinarily difficult, which is why we’re doing what we’re doing and need people to join. Perhaps the most astonishing thing to realise is that patentless drug discovery has already been done, and is to some extent how things were done before the modern (post-war) conception of the big drug company. I had heard of the polio vaccine and penicillin stories a couple of days before at the AAAS meeting in Vancouver at a talk by Robert Cook-Deegan. Luigi Palombi told the story at the Sydney meeting. If you don’t know about this, or you think that patents are needed for drug discovery, do listen. It’s important to have a Healthy Disregard for the Impossible, but it’s a lot easier when you realise that the “impossible” was actually done a long time ago.
(A shout out to Paul Willis at MMV for coming to the meeting and being our pillar of support. Thanks too to all the amazing help setting up this meeting from my Axis of Open students Paul Ylioja, Kat Badiola, Murray Robertson and Jimmy Cronshaw)