CSIR open-source project for TB democratises research

From: Business Line
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2010/04/13/stories/2010041353180200.htm

The exercise is to cut short research time and work towards effective medicines to treat TB, which accounts for about 1,000 deaths a day in India.

...the OSDD initiative has made TB-related research available to any researcher across the world...

CSIR open-source project for TB democratises research

P.T. Jyothi Datta

Mumbai, April 12

The average age of scientists on the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's (CSIR) ‘Connect 2 Decode' project — to map information on the Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) genome, is “in the 20s”. Not surprising then, the scientific community explains the project, in lay terms, as a sort of “face-book” for scientists!

But the C2D project to bring all scientific research on TB under one roof, and make the information publically available, is part of CSIR's Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) initiative. A project that seeks to democratise the approach to science by changing the way scientific data is accessed.

From the usual closed-door, non-transparent and hierarchical manner in which scientific research is usually done in private and public quarters, the OSDD initiative has made TB-related research available to any researcher across the world, the OSDD Project Director, Mr Zakir Thomas, told Business Line.

The exercise is to cut short research time and work towards effective medicines to treat TB, which accounts for about 1,000 deaths a day in India. The situation becomes worse, given that TB is increasingly responding less to existing regimens. If a medicine were to emerge, several years down the line from this project, there will not be any royalty or IP-protection, he said. However, every contribution to the research will be attributed, he added.

The market for TB drugs is about $300 million and when a huge market is not there, an intellectual property model (where innovative medicines are given exclusivity on sales by patent protection) will not work, he added.

Across database

The project-network is like face-book for scientists at the front-end, but at the back-end are databases that are connected, so scientists can ask more complex questions across databases, he explained, something that is not possible at present.

Several researchers are under-graduates or post-graduate students, he said, who have used the online tools to provide insights into 4,000 genes of the pathogen. The genes were mapped, as they relate to functional interactions and pathways, and any leads that emerge could be picked up by the pharmaceutical industry for further development, he said. The CSIR will be involved with the project and at all stages of research, the progress will have to be reported on the OSDD portal, keeping the process transparent, he added.

With an allocation of Rs 146 crore, the project started in September 2008. The initial interest shown by 800 researchers whittled down to half the number. And the information gathered by them was further mined by about 150 researchers to create the exhaustive and up-to-date database on the TB genome, he said. Spear-headed by CSIR chief, Dr S.K. Brahmachari, who is chief mentor, other scientific experts too are on board the project. Home-grown infotech major Infosys is also involved with the project.

And though the project is taking baby steps in a significant, uncharted territory, drug companies such as Jubilant and Chembiotek have already expressed their interest to participate in the project, Mr Thomas added.