GSK tries an open-source strategy for drug development

For years now, consumer advocates have blistered Big Pharma companies with ongoing criticism of the secretive nature of their drug development work. Now GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) is trying a whole new approach, creating a unique open-source development program that will offer up 13,500 chemical compounds that have the potential to throttle the parasites that cause malaria.

Three Web sites will host the treasure trove of information, according to an in-depth feature from the Wall Street Journal. And much as software developers have been able to enhance Linux on an open-source platform, GSK hopes that scientists from around the world "may look at these structures in quite a different way and see something that we don't," said Nick Cammack, who heads GSK's Medicines Development Campus.

For GSK, it's an opportunity to present the company as a facilitator rather than a controlling multinational corporation. Of course, they're not risking much. Malaria has long been considered one of the world's biggest orphan diseases, killing millions without generating much enthusiasm among Big Pharma companies.

Some industry people see this as a possible model for commercial drug development work, but others don't give it much of a chance. With billions of dollars at stake, control of intellectual property is an absolute must. But it could be a model that combines the power of pharma's R&D empires with the insights of academic researchers interested in seeking new cures to benefit the poor. And that would be a step forward.

- here's the article from the Wall Street Journal