Worldwide Open-Source Project Discovers Promising Disease-Fighting Compounds

A rare case of universities and pharmaceutical industries working together

Malaria under the microscope
Malaria Manchester Metropolitan University (CC by 2.0)

A major obstacle standing in the way of new drug discovery is the failure of universities and industries to work together. That’s according to the authors of a new study published today in the journal PLOS Pathogens, declaring the success of an open-source project to discover new promising antimalarial compounds.

“Much of the global resource in biology is present in universities, whereas the focus of medicinal chemistry is still largely within industry,” the authors wrote. “Open-source drug discovery, with sharing of information, is clearly a first step towards overcoming that gap.”

As we previously reported, the project began in 2011 when the Medicines for Malaria Venture, based in Geneva, Switzerland, offered up 400 promising compounds for study, free of charge, to any university lab or small company that asked for it. The only stipulation was that the findings would have to be made available in the public domain. Ultimately they provided the Malaria Box, as it was called, to 200 labs in 30 different countries.

A Malaria Box

The combined study results, from about one third of the labs, have revealed that 130 of the compounds may be effective against malaria. And according to a statement by lead author Wesley Van Voorhis, the researchers also discovered compounds that may prove effective against other parasites and even cancer. The results of the Malaria Box effort have spawned over 30 new drug development projects for numerous diseases, including work on a colon cancer drug by the National Cancer Institute.

It’s being hailed as the first-ever test of open-source drug-discovery.

Given the success of Malaria Box, the company has begun a new project to distribute another set of promising compounds with wider applicability. It’s called the Pathogen Box, and they are excepting requests now.