Novartis is the latest pharmaceutical company to throw some wikinomics at its approach to research and development. After investing millions of dollars trying to unlock the genetic basis of type 2 diabetes, the company released all of its raw data on the Internet, for free.
To some, this will sound peculiar. After all, type 2 diabetes and related cardiovascular risk factors — including obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol — are among the most common and most costly public health challenges in the industrialized world. Pinpointing their precise genetic origins could unlock a treasure trove of new medicines and result in a major windfall for Novartis’s shareholders.
But Novartis isn’t giving away quite as much as one might think. The research conducted by Novartis and its university partners at MIT and Lund University in Sweden merely sets the stage for the more complex and costly drug identification and development process. According to researchers there are far more leads than any one lab could possibly follow-up on alone. So by placing its data in the public domain Novartis hopes to leverage the talents of a global research community to dramatically scale and speed up its early-stage R&D activities.
Having taken the plunge, Novartis is now encouraging other companies to follow suit. “We hope that others adopt this novel and effective mode of open collaboration between scientists and physicians, in business and academia, by making the data quickly and freely available to all” said Mark Fishman, President of the Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research.
There’s little doubt in my mind that increased data sharing across a wide range of sectors would help companies and researchers launch an unprecedented attack on everything from HIV/AIDS to climate change. For more on the “open access movement”, Wikipedia has a pretty good overview.