Researchers from around the world have successfully identified compounds that can be used to treat and prevent parasite-borne illnesses such as malaria. The project, called the Malaria Box, demonstrates how an open-source approach can foster effective data sharing, according to a study in PLOS Pathogens.
[Photo: Dr. Wesley Van Voorhis]
“The trial was successful not only in identifying compounds to pursue for antimalarials, but it also identified compounds to treat other parasites and cancer,” said lead author Dr. Wesley Van Voorhis, adjunct professor of global health at the University of Washington School of Public Health.
Dr. Van Voorhis was working with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), based in Geneva, Switzerland, while on sabbatical from Washington at the time of the study. He is a professor of allergy and infectious diseases, adjunct professor of microbiology and director of the Center for Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases.
Starting in late 2011, MMV distributed 400 diverse compounds with anti-malarial activity, free of charge, to 200 labs in 30 counties. The only stipulation was that the findings had to be made available in the public domain. About one-third of the labs reported their results, which led to more than 30 new drug-development projects for a variety of diseases.
The National Cancer Institute is now working on a colon cancer drug that emerged from the testing, Dr. Van Voorhis said. Several European labs are working on anti-worm compounds, and numerous U.S. labs are investigating drugs to combat other parasites. MMV is also working with pharmaceutical companies GSK and Novartis on related antimalarials, he added.
In their paper, researchers cited the lack of interaction between universities and pharmaceutical industries as a major obstacle standing in the way of new drug discovery. “Much of the global resource in biology is present in universities, whereas the focus of medicinal chemistry is still largely within industry,” they wrote. “Open-source drug discovery, with sharing of information, is clearly a first step towards overcoming that gap.”
This open-access project was so successful that MMV has begun to distribute another set of compounds with broader potential applicability, called the Pathogen Box. The box is available now to labs globally.