Late last month, the World Health Organization unveiled a road map for eradicating tropical diseases that will involve the open exchange of intellectual property between nearly a dozen global corporations. But while increased access to pharmaceutical patent libraries is expected to drive clinical innovation, it remains to be seen if practice will live up to theory.
The WHO has recruited financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, governments of the United States; United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates and the World Bank in its quest to eliminate 17 tropical diseases by 2020. But perhaps more valuable will be the sharing of expertise and biological compounds between medical researchers.
Although the initiative has attracted attention from a wide variety of interested observers, some have begun to wonder if the project retains rigorous scientific standards.
The answer, according to Nature columnist Daniel Cressey, is a "cautious yes." The open patent strategy adopted by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, for example, has yielded the release of details surrounding more than 13,000 proprietary molecules that have shown promise in malaria treatments. With more eyes scanning the results of past trials, researchers expect to see even faster drug optimization.
However, the data sets presented for interpretation may have been sanitized of clinical failures, according to Cressey, as a result of companies screening out potentially "undesirable traits in molecules." With potentially misleading information released into the public domain, the consequences could be clinically dangerous.