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    The Economist: An open-source shot in the arm?
    Submitted by Gary Van Domselaar; posted on Friday, June 11, 2004


    ``Can goodwill, aggregated over the internet, produce good medicine? The current approach to drug discovery works up to a point, but it is far from perfect. It is costly to develop medicines and get regulatory approval. The patent system can foreclose new uses or enhancements by outside researchers. And there has to be a consumer willing (or able) to pay for the resulting drugs, in order to justify the cost of drug development. Pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to develop treatments for diseases that particularly afflict the poor, for example, since the people who need such treatments most may not be able to afford them.

    ``It is in this environment that a number of medical biologists, lawyers, entrepreneurs and health-care activists have sought improvements. They have suggested borrowing the ?open-source? approach that has proven so successful in another area of technology, namely software development. This is a decentralised form of production in which the underlying programming instructions, or ?source code?, for a given piece of software are made freely available. Anyone can look at it, modify it, or improve it, provided they agree to share their modifications under the same terms. Volunteers collaborating in this way over the internet have produced some impressive software: the best-known example is the Linux operating system. So why not apply the open-source model to drug development too?''

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