October 26, 2011

Open Source Drugs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 6:56 pm

Once I have made enough money with my current venture, I want to try to open a foundation for open source drug research. It will be based on the following things:

  • Fundraisers (e.g. walkathons) for various diseases
  • People can contribute prize money at any time
  • Prizes offered to researchers who submit a breakthrough in an area people have funded. Hopefully they will become prestigious.
  • These prizes will be in the millions of dollars. But they will be given out in stages as the drug goes through stages: research results, human trials, distribution. Some of the prize money will come from certifying of distribution companies for a minimal cost, etc.
  • Labs, human trials, distribution companies, can all be standardized and funded by the foundation. But the R&D has to be incentivized with prizes.
  • Any research submitted his way will be OPEN SOURCED to everyone. Meaning, patents will be granted such that anyone can freely use this information provided that if anyone who gets a patent based on them, they must also release their findings under the same “patentleft” license.
  • I believe that large companies which reap the benefits of our research will start giving money to the foundation in order to spur open source drug research, similarly to how Google and Apple give money to Mozilla and Apache Foundation etc.
  • Companies will compete on distribution, brand names, etc. But the underlying information and results of the R&D will be available to all.
  • People should be able to fund things in stages, ahead of time, based on what they need.
  • Universities will be able to align themselves with free information and build prestigious names for themselves, similarly to how Nobel Prize winners can improve the reputation of the university that employed them.

Visit this link to learn more about patentleft:

Open source was originally modeled on scientific research. I want to bring the economics of biotech back to what they are in the scientific research domain, where scientists can build on each other’s work and peer-review it. How come people in the physics department can built on each other’s work, but biotech researchers are snapped up by pharma companies?

Bill Gates famously pointed out that baldness gets more attention and treatments than malaria, because the economic power of the “customer base” plays a bigger role than absolute need. Here, too, open collaboration does better than siloed institutions. Clay Shirky gave a great talk about how collaboration serves the long tail better: Windows was written only for x86 computers, while Linux today has even been made to run on Toasters! That’s because the next improvement can come from anyone, anywhere. That’s how knowledge is built up. Indeed, that’s the kind of economics that would lead to people discovering cures for diseases, especially in a world where bacteria have grown resistant to all mainstream antibiotics, and the current economic system doesn’t produce enough incentives to keep up with their evolution. On the other hand, we humans collectively could keep up with these things in an environment where anyone is legally allowed to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Some of this is already being promoted by entities such as India’s consortium, but we need a lot more. We need the pharma companies to participate. There is a scene in the movie Hancock where Ray (played by Jason Bateman) tries to convince a bunch of multinational corporations that “someone has to go first”. That’s what it would require to save a lot of people’s lives (except it was overshadowed by this fight scene).

There is one area where the prize system would be different than the patent system. Under the patent / copyright government monopoly system (affectionately referred to by many as “intellectual property”), funding comes from a pharma company or a rich individual or entity which was convinced that they may turn a profit. This is the way funding is obtained for movies, etc. The danger with the “free information” system may come from mistakes made by a committee. How do we know which drugs or movies will succeed if the funding comes from the public, and a committee has to pick winners? We don’t.

In the “intellectual property” scenario, those who fund a new movie or drug may often be taking a long-shot, unpopular speculative position. Also it is usually “all or nothing” — either the movie and drug is a hit and they make a profit, or it’s a bust and they lose their money.

In the “free information” scenario, we break the prizes down into stages, so it’s not all or nothing. A researcher can still get funding from a private entity and split the prize with them. Maybe their drug doesn’t pass human trials and then they don’t get the larger prize, but their work is now in the public domain and someone else can build on it. Anyway, prizes are awarded when a drug goes to the next stage — human trials. I predict that the biggest problem will lie in the gatekeepers who will promote things to the next stage, i.e. awarding prizes. So his should be composed of a group of foremost experts in that field, who I think would be excited to evaluate the latest research (it’s FREE INFORMATION) and award what would be a very prestigious prize. Unlike the low-paid, nameless patent examiners, being on this committee would be a prestigious thing since our goal would be to attract the leaders in each field to vet new discoveries for promotion to the next stage. It would be a privilege to get the prize, too. Submissions for prizes may cost $10,000 each or require support from peers to discourage frivolous submissions and overwhelming the committees with a glut of submissions.

I personally think this system should be much more efficient in the long term at advancing the state of the art, and producing things that people actually want, just as open Free and Open Source software has eventually supplanted proprietary solutions (e.g. Firefox, Chrome vs IE). The economics are that big companies are now funding the free software foundations, because of all the wealth being created by them.

On the other hand, patents are getting more useless with time as a way to promote the state of the art, because as the industry accelerates, they build up and increase the cost of new innovations. Similarly with copyright where derivative works cannot be created for almost hundred years without consent of the copyright holder, but we are talking more about utilitarian contribution to society. But even so, in both copyright and patents, we should have a force to balance the greedy, proprietary systems that have arisen on the back of this government protection. We don’t want to take away patents, but start to counteract them with Free Information. Companies may grind their teeth at their inability to make profits off the information financed by the public (as they do now with the walkathons etc.) but after a while the people shall take their information back and everyone will have the freedom to make use of any idea in the portfolio of Free Patents.

Basically I want to make a Free Information alternative to patents when I have the money to do so. It would be a huge undertaking, but, I think, a very rewarding one. What do you all think? :)