Transitioning To Open Systems In Drug Discovery

John Wilbanks | FasterCures | October 18, 2013

Bringing the ideas of “open source” into the pharmaceutical process is far from simple. It requires a careful understanding both of the realities of open source as a software development process well as the realities of therapy research, development, and regulatory approval.

The open source metaphor holds enormous power for reaching our goal of faster cures. The key is to understand when and where in the process the open source metaphor can immediately “port” over, and to understand where we need to take the ideas behind open source – distribution, peer production, low transaction costs, and political freedoms – and do some translational research of our own to bring them into local context. Because that’s the only way we’ll realize the massive potential of a transition to open systems in drug discovery.

First, let’s look  at open source in software. Software is a human construct, built in languages designed for its creation, and governed by a harmonized and powerful international copyright regime (the drawbacks of this regime are widely known and discussed elsewhere, but are out of scope for this context). Developers have spent decades embedding abstraction and modularization into software development. And the tools of software development are widely available at low or zero cost: a computer, an internet connection, and the willingness to learn to write code.