A Facebook for Labcoats

Jaimon Joseph | IBN Live | September 23, 2011

Imagine a Facebook for scientists...A place where chemists, physicists, biologists, pharmaceutical experts all hang out. Where they upload notes, photos and detailed simulations from their latest research and invite their peers to comment and suggest improvements. Interestingly, such a site exists. (Check it out at http://sysborg2.osdd.net but be sure to create your own username and password before your do). More interestingly, it's been set up and funded by the Indian government. Somehow, the babus we think of as staid and old fashioned believe it's just the thing we need to make a breakthrough in the pharma industry.

The logic's pretty straightforward. Perfecting new medicines is an expensive, time-consuming job. It's usually done by obscenely rich multi-national corporations, in multi-billion dollar laboratories. Small teams of scientists spend years in fortified research facilities, jealously guarding their research from the rest of the world. When they discover a powerful new cure, the companies they slave for patent it, so no one else can make a copy. Then, they sell those medicines at ridiculously high prices.

The hitch is, these companies focus on glamorous diseases...That's where the Open Source Drug Discovery Programme (OSDD) comes into play. Funded by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) under the government of India, it's turning conventional pharma research on its head. Instead of a few handpicked scientists, it's throwing research open to thousands. School students, PHD scholars, university professors, doctors, scientists, pharma professionals - everyone. Instead of a heavily guarded lab, they hook up on the World Wide Web. Instead of keeping secrets, they share everything...