The government sponsored CSIR programme, the Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) (which we have written about previously here) on Sunday, announced that they had successfully completed the first ever mapping of the Mycobacterium Tuberculosis (MTB) genome. The MTB gene was sequenced more than a decade ago. However of the 4000 genes, only 1000 had been annotated before the start of this online project. Known as ‘Connect 2 Decode’ (C2D) and started in late 2008, the project was unique, in that it was completed through a collaborative effort of nearly 3000 members across 74 countries. As stated by their site, “The gene map is similar to a Google map or a Wikipedia article that can be modified and updated as new information emerges on the features of the genome.” The work was constantly verified in a structured community curation process, as well as through an onsite phase dedicated to quality control. The TB Gene map will be in the public domain for drug makers to use. The work is in a shared database hosted online that any institute doing research in TB can access and use.
While this is an amazing achievement in itself, it is also notable for another problem it has responded to. According to WHO, TB claims about 1.7 million lives a year. It is one of the most common tropical diseases in the world, and has been for a while. However, as OSDD has noted that of the roughly 1,550 new chemical entities marketed worldwide between 1975 to 2004, only 3 were for tuberculosis. Why is this? This is mainly due to the patent system that is currently in place, since it gears innovation of drugs towards markets which can pay more for those drugs – i.e., TB is a ‘low-profit’ disease ergo research towards drugs for it are ‘not worth’ investing in. In this respect, as Dr Zakir Thomas, Project Director OSDD notes, “OSDD’s model in particular holds great promise for the scientific community by stimulating the development of better drugs and diagnostics for patients”
“This marks the beginning of the efforts of C2D to align R&D with public health and to use the full potential of the open source model for the development of medical technologies and drug discovery for neglected diseases,” Samir Brahmachari, Director General, CSIR said.
“C2D’s findings may contain critical data to unlock previously undiscovered details of tuberculosis resulting in development opportunities for urgently needed new drugs in India and other developing countries”, he said.
This project, which is the first of its kind by any government, has been an amazing effort which has shown what collaboration can do!