Open-source R&D advocates prep $150M cancer drug project

After watching the cost of drug research escalate year after year with only a small annual crop of new drug approvals to point to, a number of the Big Pharma companies have begun to question all the fundamentals of the grossly inefficient game. And one of the biggest assumptions--that you have to keep your drug IP carefully sequestered behind a legal firewall of patents--will be put to the test by a new project being hatched by some of the leaders of the open-source research movement in biopharma.

Chas Bountra, chief scientist at the international Structural Genomics Consortium, and Sage Bionetworks' Stephen Friend tell Reuters' Ben Hirschler that they're in the process of rounding up backers for a project dubbed Arch2POCM, a patent-free approach to early-stage research. They hope to create a $150 million, five-year program involving public and private groups focused on cancer with a similar effort aimed at autism and schizophrenia, two of the toughest targets in neuroscience. The project, expected to launch next year, aims at initiating open-resource R&D work through proof-of-concept stage, giving the world a clear view of what works, and what doesn't.

Keith Blundy, the CEO of Cancer Research Technology, tells Reuters: "What people are prepared to entertain now is a long way away from what it was a couple of years ago. Industry has pulled all the levers it can and new models have got to be considered."

The Arch2POCM is far from a stealth program, but it hasn't suffered from overexposure either. Nature Biotechnology reported some months ago that an initial brainstorming session was held in February, with dozens of representatives coming from academia, pharma, patient groups and public agencies.

Hirschler's piece pulls no punches. The current state of drug R&D, he writes, is "dismal." But the idea of keeping research open, with no patents guarding the work into Phase II, won't be easy to pull off.

"I think going through to Phase II with everything in an IP-free environment is not going to happen," GSK researcher Patrick Vallance tells Hirschler. "But there may be some areas that really benefit. For example, everyone is struggling with trying to understand aspects of neuroscience -- having a few more molecules that probe specific pathways could be really beneficial for the whole field and for industry."

- here's the Reuters story