Open source pharma meeting discusses future

TDR news item
5 August 2014

Guiding principles for more open sharing of data for product development have been drafted at the first meeting of an international group of scientists, pharmaceutical companies, alternative pharma experts, neglected disease experts, open source theorists and practitioners and funders. The meeting was held to explore how open source could be used in the different stages of drug development for diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, and to help identify potential projects and funding for this approach.

Many separate initiatives have been launched in recent years attempting to open up the process of developing new medicines, and these have been the subject of extensive reviews by WHO. This meeting was intended to tie these together and discuss newer ideas that could stimulate effective discovery and development in areas where the current system is clearly failing, while maintaining a commitment to a transparent and inclusive research process.

The meeting was organized by the McGill University Institute for the Study of International Development, held at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy 16-18 July with further support provided by the Open Society Foundations. In attendance were representatives from India’s pioneering Open Source Drug Discovery project, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the European Lead Factory, Sage Bionetworks, the Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative, TDR, and pharmaceutical companies.

Matthew Todd from The University of Sydney spoke about TDR’s previous project which applied open source principles to the rapid discovery of a route to L-praziquantel, and about the Open Source Malaria Consortium, a project co-funded by the Medicines for Malaria Venture that is applying open source principles to drug discovery and development.

One session reviewed what policy reforms and business model innovations might stimulate new approaches to low-revenue medicines. Several international funders, such as India’s Tata Trusts, who are already funding open source drug research, were also invited so that they could contribute to the development of new approaches. Participants discussed ideas such as a global online research platform, a global innovation prize and innovative financing options like crowd-funding. They also reviewed existing alternative incentives and enabling mechanisms, such as product development partnerships and pharmaceutical spin offs and initiatives.

Piero Olliaro, head of TDR’s intervention and implementation research and an Oxford fellow, reviewed TB drug development and highlighted the bottlenecks and inefficiencies which could be improved through approaches such as open research, crowd sourcing or data sharing.

Commitments and next steps

The meeting ended with an agreed vision, mission and operating principles (see below). A full meeting report and an academic paper are planned, as well as future meetings to continue this exploration.

Over 15 commitments were made at the meeting itself, including the funding of operating expenses for a prize; the writing of a white paper on crowdfunding for drug discovery; the writing of a book; the pro bono provision of data storage facilities; an expression of interest in providing further funding in open source drug development, particularly in the areas of malaria and TB, from the Tata Trusts; the uncompensated assignment of software copyrights for predictive algorithms to an open source repository; and the holding of a second global conference next year.

Further information, including delegate presentations, is available online.



Vision: Medicine for all

Mission: Create a movement that will include existing initiatives and develop an alternative, comprehensive, open source pharmaceutical system driven by principles of openness, patient needs, and affordability

Operating principles
  • Employ radical openness, sharing and transparency
  • Leverage the global brainpower of the crowd
  • Adopt open and innovative approaches to the management of intellectual property and financing
  • Create monetary and nonmonetary reward systems for R&D that are alternatives to the prevailing proprietary model
  • Support open access to papers, data and other research outputs
  • Convene and mobilise thought, opinion and community leadership in reshaping R&D
  • Combine small, nimble, cost-effective facilitating structures able to harness the power of individuals and entities
  • Deliver affordable products
  • Place patients and their interests at the center of the R&D model and the pharmaceutical system
  • Develop a portfolio focussed on critical gaps in global health where traditional market approaches are failing, e.g. anti-infectives

The above statement was adopted by the participants in the meeting at Bellagio, Italy, on July 16-18, 2014, in their individual capacities. It does not necessarily represent the views of the organizations to which they belong.

For more information, contact:

Piero Olliaro (
Matthew Todd (

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