Open source data a boon to malaria research

Malaria drug discovery is getting a boost from open source initiatives, which are increasingly giving researchers more tools to tackle neglected diseases.

In 2010, the public release of 20,200 anti-malarial compounds by GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation and St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, helped spark greater interest in malaria drug development.

After that, the Swiss nonprofit Medicines for Malaria Venture introduced the online open access "malaria Box," comprising 400 diverse compounds known to be active against malaria that can act as starting points for oral drug discovery and development. Since the resource was launched, the organization has provided more than 150 copies of the malaria box to researchers in 29 countries. In return, the nonprofit asks that researchers release their data into the public domain.

Jeremy Burrows, head of discovery at Medicines for Malaria Venture, writes in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper that the Swiss group is now planning a similar project--a "pathogen box"--which will contain compounds with active properties that could potentially treat a range of diseases including malaria, schistosomiasis, tuberculosis and various worm infections.

With other initiatives like India's OSDD malaria program, one of the biggest challenges that arises out of opening up large archives of data is the need for easy access. Medicines for Malaria Venture teamed up with European Bioinformatics Institute to set up an open access database to search for publicly available malaria drug research.

But Burrows says some researchers haven't warmed up to open source initiatives yet. "If an institution wishes to protect its intellectual property with a patent, that would preclude involvement in an OSDD project. And the perception that it may be difficult to publish findings in high-impact journals at a later date may put some scientists off," he writes.

- read the Guardian article

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