What is Open Source Malaria?
It’s about finding, improving and bringing to market new medicines, using a process governed by a set of six laws, the most important of which are:
1) All data and ideas are shared openly
2) Anyone may take part
3) There are no patents
What diseases are you targeting?
We (you and us now that you're reading this) are currently targeting malaria. There is another branch called Open Source TB that is being set up.
Are you only doing tropical diseases?
That's the current focus, because there is more obvious market failure there (little profit). But maybe we should all try this in other areas where the failure is based on risk - like cancer and Alzheimer’s. This more general idea, open source pharma, is just now gaining momentum, but the underlying ideas of radical openness for global health are the same.
Who is it?
It’s a consortium of people interested in working in this way - some people are driving projects full-time, others come along to do one thing if they can. It’s a nimble network, always changing. It’s not a standard organization with a set of employees - you get the idea of who it is by the people who are most actively contributing - you can see photos of them on the "Meet the Team" part of the Landing Page.
Where did it come from?
The start was a project supported by the Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Australian Government.
Where is it?
On the web. Real labs and people from all over the world take part and contribute, but the web is where it all comes together.
Are you the same as The Synaptic Leap and OSDDMalaria?
Open Source Malaria incubated itself on The Synaptic Leap, but it grew and eventually needed its own space. It was named OSDDMalaria in the early days, but changed to Open Source Malaria in 2013.
Are you in India?
There is a project called Open Source Drug Discovery in India, but this works in a slightly different way. Eventually everything will probably unify, but Open Source Malaria is not associated with a particular geographical area or group. If you operate according to the rules above, you can say you're part of it. If you don't, you can't.
What Can I Do?
What can I do?
Anything you like. You can contribute to existing projects or you can start one of your own. Most of the work needed is experimental chemistry and biology. There's a lot of informatics needed. There's also writing, data management, publicity, web design and mentorship - all crucial.
How about getting students involved?
Definitely. Open projects need large cohorts of students to get involved in doing experimental science. If you’re a teacher or university demonstrator, get in touch on a discussion board. Open Source Malaria has already had inputs from individual students and whole undergraduate cohorts. Much much more of this is needed.
I’m retired and don’t have access to a lab. What can I do?
A huge amount. You’re needed! Advice, mentorship and experience are an essential component of science. Open projects need senior people with experience to advise on whether the project is on the right track. As an example, you might want to sign up for an hour a week to advise an undergraduate research project, which would mean checking data and advising on what to do next.
I’m a student. What can I do?
If you are a graduate student, how about making a molecule on the weekend, or as part of your studies (you must talk about this with your advisor and follow local safety procedures). This guy did just that and will be an author on the next batch of papers. If you’re an undergraduate, talk to your lab director about contributing as part of your major. If you’re in school, talk to your teacher and ask him or her to get in touch with the project. All students can get involved, do real research and maybe publish papers! If you see something in the project related to your studies, maybe you could do some experiments and share those.
I’m not a scientist, how can I help?
You’re needed. There are technical things that are needed, in data management. But there are lots of writing tasks needed that are non-technical. And there is a lot of PR and advocacy that is needed to make things run. Web designers and software engineers are needed in a huge variety of roles. Look through the To Do List by using the tab filters to find the items relevant to you, or start your own Issues there.
I’ve a project I want to do
Great! You’ll need to post data in the lab notebooks, and a project description/status on the wiki. If you’re happy to do that, get in touch and someone will guide you, or you can just mimic what you see already. Then you can start working with people on the science.
I used to work on a project that has kind of died
That's perfect for OSM - making it open is the way to keep it alive! Post data, project status, and highlight what you would do next. You might find that someone wants to work with you. Open Source Malaria is intended to act as a repository of projects, for example promising molecules that are not currently being evaluated anywhere.
Can I be anonymous?
Definitely. It helps if you can do this as a named individual, so you can bring your reputation with you. It helps if you can bring your organization with your name, but it’s not essential.
This page needs some pictures
Please go ahead and add some.
How Does It Work?
What's the basic structure?
There's a landing page, which doesn't have much content. That links to the lab notebooks that contain all the data and are not meant for light reading. The wiki contains the story of where things are up to and descriptions of all the projects - the wiki changes a lot as progress is folded in. There's a To Do List that changes regularly. Then there's social media stuff such as Twitter to alert people and search for help. There's a discussion board. Meetings are recorded. We try very hard not to use email, since that's walled off from the outside world.
Do I need to sign up?
Not really. The lab books can be used with a Google or OpenID login (there’s a guide on how to post things). The social media platforms can be used with your existing accounts. To add to the wiki you’d need a login, yes, but it’s very easy. To use the useful To Do List (i.e. to post stuff that needs doing, or contribute there) you’ll need to sign up for Github, but that’s very easy and non-spammy. There’s a little guide for that too.
Will you spam me with email?
No. It’s really not that kind of a thing.
I feel dumb asking this but…
Don’t. Just ask away, e.g. on the Discussion Board. If you think that something’s missing from this page, you can add it yourself, below.
There’s too much stuff here - I don’t understand.
It can look difficult before you dive in. Start, for example, with the status of the currently most-active project. Browse the latest tweets. Look at the To Do List. If you’re still not sure, ask a question on any platform, such as the Discussion Board. The email address, if you really, really need it, is email@example.com. You can (if you have an account on this wiki) add a question at the bottom of the page.
Who pays for all this?
Open source drug discovery and development is not free. Money (cash or in-kind) is needed for some things, such as experiments, labs, chemicals. At the moment this is coming from governments, NGOs and companies. Contributions can be of various sorts - universities have supported students contributing to these projects, for example. Companies have contributed experimental resources and peoples’ time, such as running an assay. Many people have given time in order to solve scientific problems and be named on publications, such as consultants who guide the science. It’s not free, but it’s about as efficient with resources as it’s possible to get because there’s no duplication of effort, people don’t need to travel, and people are only part of the project when they contribute.
Do I need to pay anything?
Can I apply for a grant for my own research, and say that I will use OSM's infrastructure to make the research more efficient? Yes, that's an excellent idea. Maybe include a request for a few thousand dollars for web development.
If we release everything we’re doing, how can we patent things?
We don’t. There are no patents - there can’t be. So we will need to find solutions to covering the costs of bringing drugs to market by rethinking how we do that. For many tropical diseases, governments and NGOs can cover these costs if the right drug candidates can be found. Future profits derive from a healthy population.
Why can’t I just take everything you’re doing and patent it?
If you can, go right ahead. The license for everything is CC-BY, meaning you can use whatever you want for any reason, including to make money, provided you cite the project. If you can justify a patent, you’re free to do so. If you make a million, you might like to consider a little kickback.
Why can’t I take what you’re doing and work on it in secret?
You can do that. You lose the efficiency gains of working with smart people, and you lose the joy joy feelings of doing so.
Are you Communists?
No. Open source works by an open arena where anyone can do anything and the best contributions will tend to survive. It’s meritocratic - the people who do the most or the best work end up leading the project. Open source means you can compete and cooperate at the same time.
I love open innovation!
That’s great. But that’s different. In open source you agree to share everything with everyone as you’re doing it. In open innovation you can work in small teams and keep secrets. These are not compatible.
I love open access!
That’s great. Being able to read papers is important. Open source is different, though, and is about how we do the research in the first place, not about how we read the papers that come out of it.
OK, awesome. Tell me what I can do to help.
If you can’t find something obvious in the To Do Lists, and you’ve got a question, then ask the question in a public discussion place. If you’re scared you might sound stupid (you won’t) then email the project core. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org but please try to use that as a last resort.
I’m still not sure.
Buy a T-shirt to wear while you think it over. A little bit of the money supports the consortium.