The Collateral Benefits of India's Open Source Drug Discovery Programme

Priyanka Pulla | Forbes India | April 9, 2014

India's Open Source Drug Discovery programme is struggling for lack of expertise and a research ecosystem. However, the programme's real contribution may be the creation of just such an ecosystem

...When India’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) launched OSDD in 2008, the idea promised to disrupt the current drug-discovery paradigm, which is failing in diseases of the developing world. No pharmaceutical company wants to develop drugs for tuberculosis, malaria, or leishmaniasis, because the patients, typically poor, cannot afford to pay. So, instead of investing their hopes in profit-driven corporations, OSDD threw the doors open to academic, government and private-sector researchers all over India and the world. The collaborative process of drug discovery meant an almost unlimited talent pool. Theoretically, the potential was immense.

But six years later, the challenges of this model are becoming apparent. As OSDD progresses beyond early stage discovery to late stage development, the lack of a critical mass of drug-discovery professionals in the Indian academic world is hampering progress. Also, the academic world does not have the system of training and incentives that make pharmaceutical companies tick. “Typically the discovery timeline should be about two or two-and-a-half years. After that you should be talking a different language,” says Ram Vishwakarma, director of the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, a CSIR lab that partners with OSDD. “Now, we need to bring international-level expertise, and some of it will cost money.”

One area of expertise that is missing in the Indian research landscape is cheminformatics...