Open-Source Medicine

There are thousands of promising drugs for treating diseases that are simply not getting studied or brought to market because they are derived from natural or common substances that can’t be patented. The dirty little secret of the pharma business is that even a miracle cure for cancer won’t be invested in if it can’t be defended as a proprietary product.

So here’s an idea for the ultra-rich (if you are reading this). If you
really want to help the world, start a foundation that funds "open-source medicine" — the research,
development, trials and distribution of non-patentable (or at least non-patented…) drugs.  This includes not only herbal and traditional remedies, but also other remedies derived from common substances that just cannot be patented.  And in addition it includes potentially patentable cures, which are found and then deliberately released as open-source so that nobody can patent them.

Open-source development has made a huge difference for software, so why not pharma and medicine? Why should all drug development be commercial?

Your shiny new foundation would bring together the greatest minds to collaboratively cure diseases for the betterment of mankind. Now that would be a great legacy!

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3 Responses to Open-Source Medicine

  1. hank says:

    absolutely brilliant idea. Instead of waiting for really rich people, perhaps the government would fund this?

  2. Anush Shetty says:

    It a brilliant idea. Especially in my country (India) , Atlernative medicines is practised in a big way. Some serious funding and research would be wonderful. I am sure an “Open Source Medicine” would have a greater impact than Open Source software 🙂


  3. Zenkat says:

    The other dirty little not-so-secret about the traditional drug discovery model is that it is horribly inefficient — and by many accounts, completely broken. While the total dollars invested in pharma R&D has skyrocketed over the past two decades, the number of drugs approved by the FDA each year continues to fall. Corporate giants like Pfizer and Merck are just starting to get their massive booties kicked — and kicked hard — for their failure to produce. M&A just isn’t filling the pipelines and they no longer can justify their inflated valuations.
    Why this failure of the traditional pharma model? For many of the same reasons that caused Microsoft to plop out the horrendously shiny turd that is Microsoft Vista after five years and hundreds of thousands of person-hours. Stifiling bureaucracy, staggering complexity, and nasty internal politics make organizations STUPID and inefficient. As has been pointed out by many others, the command-and-control mechanisms pioneered by the industrial revolution just don’t scale very well when creating knowledge products. This applies no matter what the knowledge product — be it a massive codebase or a chemical compound that cures cancer.
    However, you do have to remember that the business dynamics of pharmaecuticals and software are radically different. How successful would open-source software be if every piece of software sold needed to go through a government-mandated, seven-year, $150M validation process? A validation process that pretty much everyone agrees is necessary to assure our drugs do what they say they do without killing people …
    (You ever worked on validated software, BTW? Talk about slow, bureaucratic, and stupid. 21CFRp11 will make you want to gouge out your frontal lobes with a sharpened spoon!)
    Still, there are those who are working to make open-source discovery fly, and there definitely seems to be traction in the academic research community. Check out Collaborative Drug Discovery (, PLoS Neglected Diseases (, and The Synaptic Leap (
    It’s a start …