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    February 02, 2010


    Samir Bharadwaj

    Definitely one to think about, Leigh. It just seems unlikely that something so sweeping will be adopted by something as closed and guarded as the pharmaceutical industry in the forceeable future.

    What we're talking about is a sort of Creative Commons approach to drug research; Not quite Open Source, but "some rights reserved". Would it be a good idea? Absolutely! But let's not forget that even something as supposedly altruistic as the academic scientific comunity has still not agreed upon an open sharing of just plain research papers in this way. A lot of "open" research is still shut behind membership-based services and closed databases. And those are people who are obliged to share everything.

    Even in the software world, where the concept of Open Source has ben most successful, major chunks of functionality simply don't exist in the open source world. This in spite of thousands of companies who had products with said functionality going bust all the time. They all choose to take their code with them to the grave. People don't even seem to want to share when they have nothing to lose anymore.

    Drug companies, in comparison, are much more cloak-and-dagger than the examples mentioned, or even something like the music industry. They thrive on the espionage of it all, and the fact that their product saves lifes certainly hasn't had a major bearing on the behaviour of the industry thus far. Could it happen? Maybe, if they were forced in some way. But the fact that we still haven't really invented a viable electrical alternative to the ancient internal combustion engine just goes to show that the inertia of commercial interest is a powerful and dangerous thing.

    How would something like this affect advertisng? I guess we can see clues in the software world. You will have, on one hand, backlash advertising protecting the crumbling monopolies on closed information with fear tactics about security and "professional support". And you'll have a counter movement selling service quality, and corporate philosophies rather than features. Why do people choose to buy a particular niche version of Linux for their server when all the Linuxes are based on the same shared base, and most have a free downloadable version? Advertising has tackled that scenario, and I imagine it will tackle the open collaboration model you describe in the pharmaceuical industry, in a similar vein.

    One thing we can be sure of is that they will be exciting times, as you predict. Thanks for a thought proving post.



    Institute for OneWorld Health is an org to watch in this area. I think they were the first not-for-profit pharmaceutical company in the world. Their process for selecting new drug candidates includes consideration of affordability, global need & ethics.

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