Open-source drug discovery project advances drug development

By Melissa Fassbender

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Pharmacology

The box of 400 active drug-like molecules was distributed at no cost to researchers around the world. (Image: Medicines for Malaria Venture)
The box of 400 active drug-like molecules was distributed at no cost to researchers around the world. (Image: Medicines for Malaria Venture)
The first of its kind trial has successfully identified several compounds to pursue and has given rise to more than a dozen drug development projects.

The project was initiated by the Medicines for Malaria Venture​ as a unique experiment to send out 400 compounds via a “Malaria Box​,” which included drug candidates for malaria that hadn’t previously been thoroughly investigated.

The boxes were distributed free of charge to anyone who submitted an idea of what to do with them.

They were sent out to about 200 researchers in over 30 countries​,” Wes Van Voorhis MD PhD, Head, Allergy and Infectious Diseases, University of Washington, told

[Researchers] ran all kinds of tests on the compounds and found them useful in Cancer therapy, for various infectious diseases other than malaria, and for malaria,​” he said.

Van Voorhis explained that many of the compounds came from pharmaceutical companies' compound libraries, which would not ordinarily be available to academic researchers. 

This puts pre-clinical drug candidates into the hands of academics to find all of the uses that can be made with them​,” he added.

The world of researchers

In their paper, the researchers cited the lack of interaction between academia and industry as a major challenge in drug discovery. Additionally, Van Voorhis explained that it is often a challenge to receive funding to progress the compounds to drugs after uses are discovered.

However, as a result of the open-source project, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is currently working on a new colon cancer drug. Several European labs are also working on anti-worm compounds, and labs in the US are investigating drugs to combat other parasites. Additionally, Medicines for Malaria Venture is working with GSK and Novartis on related anti-malarials.

With these successes, Van Voorhis said that the experiment should be done more, in order to get active compounds that are otherwise not well characterized into “the world of researchers​.”

Happily, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded MMV [Medicines for Malaria Venture] to do this​,” Van Voorhis added.

Called the Pathogen Box, the project has sent more than 130 copies of 400 compounds to researchers worldwide. The box is available to scientific labs globally.

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