Conventional patent-based drug development incentives work badly for the developing world, where commercial markets are usually small to non-existent. For this reason, the past decade has seen extensive experimentation with alternative R&D institutions ranging from private–public partnerships to development prizes. Despite extensive discussion, however, one of the most promising avenues—open source drug discovery—has remained elusive. We argue that the stumbling block has been the absence of a critical mass of preexisting work that volunteers can improve through a series of granular contributions. Historically, open source software collaborations have almost never succeeded without such “kernels”.
Here, we use a computational pipeline for: (i) comparative structure modeling of target proteins, (ii) predicting the localization of ligand binding sites on their surfaces, and (iii) assessing the similarity of the predicted ligands to known drugs. Our kernel currently contains 143 and 297 protein targets from ten pathogen genomes that are predicted to bind a known drug or a molecule similar to a known drug, respectively. The kernel provides a source of potential drug targets and drug candidates around which an online open source community can nucleate. Using NMR spectroscopy, we have experimentally tested our predictions for two of these targets, confirming one and invalidating the other.
The TDI kernel, which is being offered under the Creative Commons attribution share-alike license for free and unrestricted use, can be accessed on the World Wide Web at http://www.tropicaldisease.org. We hope that the kernel will facilitate collaborative efforts towards the discovery of new drugs against parasites that cause tropical diseases.
Open source drug discovery, a promising alternative avenue to conventional patent-based drug development, has so far remained elusive with few exceptions. A major stumbling block has been the absence of a critical mass of preexisting work that volunteers can improve through a series of granular contributions. This paper introduces the results from a newly assembled computational pipeline for identifying protein targets for drug discovery in ten organisms that cause tropical diseases. We have also experimentally tested two promising targets for their binding to commercially available drugs, validating one and invalidating the other. The resulting kernel provides a base of drug targets and lead candidates around which an open source community can nucleate. We invite readers to donate their judgment and in silico and in vitro experiments to develop these targets to the point where drug optimization can begin.