Food for Thought: Open Source Principles – A Concept for the Life Sciences?

In the IT industry, open source is an acknowledged development principle for software that uses peer review and transparency of the development process. The promise of open source is better quality, i.e. higher reliability, more flexibility, and lower cost, among others.
Now, this principle is spreading to the life sciences. For one, there is the Open Source Sensing Initiative which is trying to apply a bottom-up, decentralized approach to the development of sensors for security and environmental purposes. Read more…
The initiative argues that huge economic, environmental, health, and security benefits can be expected from the coming “Sensor Age” – if these devices are accepted by the public. At present, people are skeptical for fears of a „surveillance society“, and therefore a long and expensive battle is looming between those using sensors to collect data and those whose data is being collected.
The Open Source Sensing Initiative however, a project of the US-based Foresight Institute proposes to apply the tools of open source software to sensor development, to advance the immense practical benefits for health, the environment, and safety, without crossing the line into unnecessary total disclosure of every aspect of individuals’ lives. It believes, that open source development can reduce this conflict to accelerate a solution accepted by the public. At present, project proposals for the development of various sensors are under discussion.
Another initiative is the Canadian-based Pink Army Cooperative which aims to apply open source development principles to the design of novel breast cancer drugs. Pink Army plans to use synthetic oncolytic viruses, based on JC virus which it wants to adapt to the individual genetic makeup of a patient. According to Pink Army, each design would constitute a unique personalized drug to be tested in a single person (n=1) phase I clinical trial.
Pink Army aims to team up with suppliers of synthetic genes, namely German-based GeneArt for the synthetic viruses and refers to companies and organizations providing and developing personalized therapeutic recommendations (e.g. CollabRx or Sage BioNetworks) or providing platforms for patients to exchange information about personal experiences with certain diseases and treatments (e.g. CureTogether or PatientsLikeMe). These platforms already are used by some pharma companies to recruit patients.
While it is too early to judge whether the open source approach will be as successful in the life science as it has been with software, the projects clearly demonstrate that people are beginning to take seriously the concept of personalized medicine and that there are a lot of individuals willing to embrace this concept.