As recently as 30 years ago, tuberculosis (TB) was believed to be under control. However, since the 1980s, the world has seen a resurgence of this potentially fatal disease, with over nine million new cases in 2010, predominantly in the developing world.
The reasons for the resurgence are complicated. One cause is the lengthy and complicated course of antibiotics that is the current treatment for many infections. A typical course of treatment against the infectious agent Mycobacterium tuberculosisinvolves up to four medicines and takes between six to nine months. About 20-30 per cent of patients don’t finish their treatment.
This failure rate opens up new opportunities for deadlier drug-resistant strains to develop, and this, added to the fact that research and development into new TB medicines had reached something of an impasse, is what has led to the surge in new cases of TB.
Open innovation – sharing our data Clearly, a new approach to tackling TB had to be found. To this end, our scientists have been searching through the two million chemicals in our pharmaceutical compound library, screening them against the TB bacterium to identify those chemicals that could inhibit the bacteria.
They have found around 180 compounds – also known as hits – which in essence represent 180 new starting points in the search for treatments against TB. These findings, including the chemical structures and associated data, have been made freely available online. Armed with this information, scientists will be able to carry out further research on these compounds to help identify how they might lead to medicines that could inhibit the disease process.
“By placing these ‘hits’ in the public domain, we hope other scientists will carry out additional research that could help drive the discovery of new treatments against TB,” explains Nick Cammack, head of research at GSK’s Tres Cantos Medicines Discovery Campus. “This is essentially an example of ‘open source’ being applied to drug discovery, and we know it works.”
We are confident this approach will stimulate research, as it did when we released our malaria ‘hits’ after a similar screen of our compound library against the malaria parasite P falciparum back in 2010.
Since then, GSK’s anti-malarial data have been shared with 14 research institutions around the world, resulting in a number of new research projects. A pre-requisite for granting access to the data is that the researchers agree to put their findings into the public domain, thus continuing to support scientific understanding. This will also be the case for access to the TB data.
The group Medicines for Malaria Ventures (MMV), which partly funded our initial malaria screening, has also been instrumental in coordinating this open source approach. MMV have created a ‘malaria box set’ made up of the compounds donated by us, and other research groups including St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and Novartis. The malaria box has been sent to 100 groups around the world.
Several labs are also involved in an exciting new open source drug discovery project for malaria – the first of its kind – using a new idea called ‘Open Notebook Science’. This involves publishing the notebook of the researcher online, along with all the raw and processed data and any associated material, as it is recorded. Led by the Todd lab at the University of Sydney MMV and GSK’s Tres Cantos facility, this new practice hopes to speed up the collaboration process.