Open source typically refers to a computer program wherein the source code is available to everyone for use devoid of restrictions. In the field of medical, open source is revolutionizing health care in several ways. It has the potential to cut the costs of running medical practices and enables practitioners to take charge instead of software vendors. Open source medicine is not new, as it has been involved in providing medical devices and equipment to under-resourced healthcare workers and facilities over the last few years.
In a bid to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of companies rush to develop vaccines to curb the outbreak. Researchers, scientists and medical experts all over the world are working day and night that yielded some 90 vaccine candidates, where are some in phase I and some are reached phase II. Though this collection of resources and sharing of information has brought the Open Source method to the center of drug discovery and development.
Unlike conventional secretive, highly-competitive methods of research and drug development, open source medicine puts health above profits as it makes the availability of resources open to the public.
Why is Open Source Medicine Important?
A team of researchers at Pfizer, in the year 2015, discovered its blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis drug, Enbrel, which appeared to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s by 64 percent. But validating that the drug would have that effect in people would require a costly clinical trial. This is why, after several years of internal discussion, the company opted against further investigation and chose not to make the data public. However, according to The Washington Post, researchers in the company’s division of inflammation and immunology urged Pfizer to conduct a clinical trial on thousands of patients, which they estimated would cost US$80 million, to see if the signal contained in the data was real.
Other medical and pharmaceutical researchers also believe Pfizer should have released the data. The Washington Post, which broke the story, reported, “It would benefit the scientific community to have that data out there,” said Keenan Walker, a Johns Hopkins assistant professor of medicine who studies Alzheimer’s. “Whether it was positive data or negative data, it gives us more information to make better informed decisions,” he said.
Despite pharmaceutical companies have failed to deliver treatment and information publically, a human rights lawyer Jaykumar Menon is now developing a platform where scientists and researchers can generously access technological tools for researching the disease, share their discoveries, commence investigations into molecules or potential drugs, and find entities to turn that research into medicine. Reports claim, if the platform succeeds, it would enable drugs to succeed on their merit and need, more willingly than their ability to be profitable.
Therefore, as the COVID-19 pandemic brings the world’s scientists together and shows the need for faster drug development, the promise of collective research demonstrates the success of the open source medicine method.