CLL Support Association
8,943 members14,283 posts

Is there a role for Open Source in Drug Development?

Is there a role for Open Source in Drug Development?

Further to the previous posts on Folding@home and AllTrials, here's an interesting 12 minute video that shows how Open Source could speed prototype drug discovery to fight cancer.

The Open Source movement has very successfully provided most of the software behind the internet, as well as that driving much of our smart modern technology. The routers in our homes rely on Open Source software as do Apple devices, Android phones and tablets and Smart TVs. Most web servers, including the Amazon server used by Health Unlocked, use Open Source software.

The philosophy behind Open Source is to make software source code freely available for reuse, with a licence encouraging software developers to further share their improvements. This saves developers from having to re-invent the wheel and enables any sufficiently skilled and interested developer to verify software works as claimed and to suggest bug fixes for prompt correction.

Naturally, there have been attempts to use this very successful development model in other fields, including drug development. Jay Bradner, a researcher at Harvard and Dana Farber in Boston, gave an excellent example of this at his TEDxBoston talk on genomedicine in 2011:

"How does cancer know it's cancer? At Jay Bradner's lab, they found a molecule that might hold the answer, JQ1 -- and instead of patenting JQ1, they published their findings and mailed samples to 40 other labs to work on. An inspiring look at the open-source future of medical research.

In his lab, Jay Bradner works on a breakthrough approach for subverting cancer .. and he’s giving the secret away."

Other researchers have continued work on the JQ1 molecule and now have an extremely promising treatment (proven in mouse trials) to prevent heart failure.

Unfortunately, I can't see how Open Source could be used to actually bring a drug to the market, due to the very high costs involved, but perhaps the open sharing of knowledge will reduce the number of drugs that go to advanced trial phases before failing, and hence reduce the cost and time involved in delivering successful drugs?

I can highly recommend the TED site for a "wide range of presentations by the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less)".


(Health Unlocked runs on the Linux operating system and uses the nginx webserver - both Open Source.)

4 Replies

I use many open source programs on my machines at home and have used libraries of software again open source. The software from Gimp a good free alternative to Photoshop and Libreoffice a good alternative to Office. Websites can be created easily with joomla, wordpress, htm all open source. Money can be made by selling readymade templates etc. So the principle does work and allows many to bring their expertise to bear on a project - and the web is a great example of how it works in practice.

This is very different than the model of the pharma companies where ownership is all They are trying to patent genome of common herbal remedies and foods, Not always successfully thank goodness. see

So the more open source information that is out there the better. Ensuring more researchers can build on earlier work and all open for pear review. Too much pressure on research to on profitable is the explanation for very few new antibiotics coming to market in the past years. Open source is in contrast to pharma companies who keep a lot of information back both good and bad. The more information out there the faster new developments are likely to be available from what ever source - more competition.

Certainly researchers need to be able to fund their research and companies need to be able to make a reasonable profit. Whether company ceo's should be mulit billionaires before a product is released is debatable and does confirm the market expects these designer drugs to be sold at a premium - possibly so high they will not be available generally.

Hopefully open source will continue to keep tools and ideas out there giving choice and moving areas of research forward faster.


Couldn't agree more with your closing paragraph Myrddin!

I've been using LibreOffice from when it was Star Office and Linux since 2000. Another great thing about quite a few open source programs including Firefox, GIMP and LibreOffice is that they are available cross platform, with versions for Apple, Linux and Windows. LibreOffice compatibility with Microsoft Office can be a double edged sword however. While I wouldn't recommend converting files back and forth between the office suites, I have found that LibreOffice/OpenOffice can recover a corrupted Microsoft Office file where the Microsoft Office program refuses to open it.

Then there's the competition aspect. What version of Internet Explorer would we be on now if it wasn't for competition from Mozilla/Firefox and other browsers.



Very interesting posts. Thank you Neil and Myrddin. I use Firefox, and shall look at Gimp as I puchased some photo software which keeps failing. Had nor heard of Open Source but I am impressed, wouldn't it be great if sharing became a way of advancing on many fronts.



Not truly Open Source but the CLL Research Consortium has shared knowledge about their findings for decades. A pooled resource.

'The CLL Research Consortium (CRC) is a multi-institutional program project, funded, in part, by the National Institute of Health. The consortium has brought together institutions that, under normal circumstances, would not engage one another as they currently can under the auspices of CRC. The Consortium includes the following clinical sites: Moores UCSD Cancer Center, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Ohio State University Cancer Center, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical System, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic, and several sites that perform laboratory work alone, including The Burnham Institute and Barts and the London Cancer Center. These institutions see a diverse patient population and all possess high quality basic science laboratories. Bringing these sites together in the context of the CRC has resulted in a program that is much more than the sum of its parts.'


You may also like...