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Biology Goes Open Source 100

cford writes "According to Forbes some of the drug company giants are finally realizing that their genetic research is worth more if they give it away. 'Novartis, the Basel, Switzerland, drug giant, has helped uncover which of the 20,000 genes identified by the Human Genome Project are likely to be associated with diabetes. But rather than hoard this information, as drug firms have traditionally done, it is making it available for free on the World Wide Web. "It will take the entire world to interpret these data," says Novartis research head Mark Fishman. "We figure we will benefit more by having a lot of companies look at these data than by holding it secret."'"
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Biology Goes Open Source

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  • by nickv111 ( 1026562 ) on Monday February 12, 2007 @04:42PM (#17987730)
    Patents on the medical and biological industry, while potentially good for the companies, are truly terrible for the rest of the world. The last thing we need is more expensive medicine, and having biological trade secrets released will help humanity as a whole.

    I've done a little research on AIDS, for example, and to give you an example of what patents do for the cost of medicine, take a look at this quote from the New York Times article, "Look at Brazil." [nytimes.com]

    "Until a year ago, the triple therapy that has made AIDS a manageable disease in wealthy nations was considered realistic only for those who could afford to pay $10,000 to $15,000 a year or lived in societies that could."

    In developing countries, the cost of patented medication is the reason why many families cannot afford it and so many suffer from it. Now look at another quote from the same article:

    "Brazil now produces some triple therapy for $3,000 a year and expects to do much better, and the price could potentially drop to $700 a year or even less."

    Many countries cannot do this for fear of economic sanctions, which means the next logical step would be for companies to open up their medical and biological information, for the good of humanity. Not only will this help potential consumers of this medication, but also provide a base for other companies to build on to excel each other's knowledge.
  • by SportyGeek ( 694769 ) on Monday February 12, 2007 @04:54PM (#17987918)
    There is actually a lot of data associated with human disease that has been made available to the public. There are three main DNA databases throughout the world: NCBI from the US [nih.gov], EMBL from Europe [ebi.ac.uk], and DDBJ from Japan [nig.ac.jp]. These public sequence databases have a plethora of links associated with them that you can explore and find out more about the biology of human disease from sequences to academic papers. An example of is the The Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man. The down side, of course, is that many of the newer papers require a subscription to read in their entirety.
  • by JoshDM ( 741866 ) on Monday February 12, 2007 @05:31PM (#17988412) Homepage Journal
    While I applaud the company, the notion that the human genome or any part of it is anyone's to keep, license or give away is appalling.

    They're not talking about licensing a portion; they're talking about giving away knowledge regarding which portion likely relates to diabetes.
  • by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Monday February 12, 2007 @05:38PM (#17988540)
    This is not really about 'open source', it's about 'Big Pharma' trying to address its problems by leveraging its (diminishing) assets, and trying to access multiple sources of innovation. See the informative article in 'The Economist' - Jan 25th - 'Billion dollar pills' (Economist.com). Since it's a subscription site, here are a few extracts, (fair use): "The industry's share prices have performed pitifully and a new report from Accenture, a consultancy, calculates that a whopping $1 trillion of "enterprise value", which measures future profitability, has been wiped out because investors have lost faith in drugmakers' growth prospects" "Three of the biggest drugs firms have brought in new bosses to help turn things around." "The risks have been compounded by vertical integration" "Mr Kindler [new boss of Pfizer] also wants his secretive researchers to open up and work more closely with outsiders. He has put the company's drugs pipeline on the internet for all to scrutinise and declared his intention to pursue outside collaborations and acquisitions keenly. There's much more, but the underlying truth is that large corporations seem to have to have problems 'institutionalising innovation', and thus end up like Cisco, Microsoft & others - spending fortunes on R&D, but then spending even more on buying ideas in from start-ups or Academe. You can bet that as soon as someone finds a use for this information, 'Big Pharma' will be there with it's chequebook wide open. Is that a bad thing? Well, as another poster noted, perhaps it would be better if so-called 'underdeveloped' countries had the rights to produce & distribute in their local markets. Of course, another wildcard could be the Bill & Melinda et al. foundation. That would be ironic, the 'king' of closed-source using his $ to finance a somewhat 'open-source' model.

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