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Collaborating in the Pipeline

This week’s Economist has a fascinating article that explores whether or not the open-source software movement can be applied to pharmaceutical drug development. The piece highlights two areas where such collaboration might be effective–drugs whose patents have expired (other uses for aspirin, for instance) and diseases that affect small numbers of people or are mostly found in poor countries. Some are already calling for the science community to try: Two lawyers and a computational biologist proposed applying an open-source approach to fight tropical diseases at last week’s biotech industry conference.

The article closes with two thought-provoking questions. First, does open-source genuinely foster innovation? Open-source software (Linux, for example) often develops “functional equivalents” of proprietary software, with some improvement, and pharmaceutical companies are often criticized for launching “me-too” drugs rather than performing groundbreaking research.

The other is what to call open-source when it’s applied outside of software. One Yale professor calls it “non-proprietary peer-production of information-embedded goods.” The author implores us, understandably, to come up with something snappier. Anyone have any ideas?

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