GlaxoSmithKline Using Open Source Principles To Further Drug Research

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 21, 2010

Pharmaceutical companies get knocked for lots of things in the media so when they do something right, it's important to acknowledge it. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced this week that it plans to rely on open source strategies to further drug research and to aid in the development of malaria drugs in an effort to help prevent disease-related death in third-world countries. During a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, company CEO Andrew Witty told attendees [PDF] GSK is looking for ways to "do more" and an open source approach to drug development is one way to achieve that.

The first way GSK plans to encourage drug research is by setting up an "Open Lab" in Tres Cantos, Spain, where as many as 60 independent researchers will be able to access the the lab's data and scientific equipment. GSK is also seeding the lab with $8 million to help fund research projects.

"The important thing here is that we are not generating the ideas or the projects to work on, rather we are letting universities, not-for-profit partnerships, research institutes, come to us with their projects, and getting them to set out what they think we can do to help them. We will soon announce the first two organisations that will come to the 'Open Lab'," said Witty.

Second, GSK is opening up access to 13,500 drug compounds, including their chemical makeup and associated data and making to freely available on publicly accessible scientific Web sites. The company hopes that by offering comprehensive data to the collective scientific community, vaccines and treatments to fight malaria will get to market sooner.

"GSK is ready and willing to play its part in tackling global public health problems," said Witty. "Whether we‟re sharing our compound library or making the world‟s first malaria vaccine accessible, our goal is the same - to find tailor-made targeted solutions to specific problems. One size really doesn‟t fit all. We are evolving, becoming more open, and finding new ways of working with others. This is our “open innovation” agenda.

It's heartening to see a drug company put drug development -- and lives -- ahead of the budgetary bottom line. While Glaxo's actions will no doubt have some sort of financial impact, a willingness to apply open source principles to its business plan will no doubt pay off in dividends.