Here on Techdirt we've been pretty scathing about the way that Big Pharma develops drugs -- often poorly -- and then uses patent monopolies to keep prices so high that only rich Westerners can afford them. Of course, it's easy to complain about the flaws of the current approach, but are there any alternatives? We've already covered one -- using prizes - and now Carl Levinson points us to another potentially powerful approach: crowdsourcing. It's already been adopted by 'Project Marilyn' to develop a patent-free anti-cancer drug:
The campaign will fund a xenograft experiment, which is the next step in developing the promising anti-cancer compound "9DS". This experiment needs to be completed before 9DS can move on to clinical trials.
Here are some more details of both the drug and the project:
The drug candidate 9DS was developed at the University of Maryland. The last work done on the drug showed that it had activity against cancer competitive with leading cancer drugs such as taxol. Moreover, 9DS is also likely to have lower side effects than most chemotherapies, since a related compound, SJG-136, seems to have low side effects in early clinical trials.
Of course, even if enough money is raised -- at the time of writing, just over a quarter of the crowdfunding target has been pledged -- there's still much more work to be done before the drug can be sold to the public. An article in the Times of San Diego explains what will happen next:
Project Marilyn involves: production of more 9DS, and submitting 9DS to a xenograft study ('curing cancer in mice'). This is the next step in drug development and an important one on the way to doing clinical (human) studies. The process we're seeking to fund should take approximately 6 months. If we receive more funding, we will add stretch goals, such as further preclinical experiments on 9DS, development 9DS analogs, or other exciting anti-cancer ideas.
Provided that the xenograft study goes well, 9DS will move into further preclinical trials, possibly through a collaboration with a for-profit company. Research and development at the later stages costs between $1 million and $10 million and will likely not be crowdfunded.
It's only a small-scale project, but it's exciting to see new funding models being tried out for drug development. Moreover, the Times of San Diego reports that Yonemoto wants his site indysci.org to host further crowdfunded projects, both from himself and other researchers. Let's hope enough pledges are made, and that others do indeed start to build on the idea.
Due the drug's patent status, the threat of competition is likely to keep the price of 9DS low, regardless of a partnership with a for-profit company. Currently, when a drug loses its patent status, the price can come down ten-fold, according to [project leader Dr. Isaac] Yonemoto.
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