Application of open source licensing to vaccine and medicine discovery:
Open Source Drug Discovery
This research project aims to create a business model for Open Source Drug Discovery that will assist governments, non-profit
organizations and industry with the application of an open source approach to pharmaceutical, biological and vaccine discovery
Open source licensing, widely used within the computer software industry, allows an individual to share intellectual property
rather than restricting access. It guarantees that other individuals or companies can access, distribute and modify the information
so long as they credit their source, state that the information is publicly available and in some cases, agree to make their
incremental improvements available as well. Generally, items licensed under open source are freely available. For a more specific
definition of open source, see the Open Source Initiative’s definition.
There are a myriad of phrases closely related to “open source” such as “free software”, “open innovation”, “open access” and
“open knowledge”. “Free software” is practically the same concept as open source with the addition of a political emphasis
– proponents believe that all software should be open source. Sometimes the two terms are combined in FLOSS (free/libre/open
“Open innovation” conveys a much broader idea. University of California at Berkeley’s Henry Chesbrough has championed the
concept, which encourages companies to actively supplement their internal knowledge stocks with external sources. “Open access”
is a general term with varying meanings depending upon the context. When used to discuss content, it generally means the free
access to books, journals, media, etc. “Open knowledge” is defined by the Open Definition as knowledge that anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only to the requirement to attribute and share-alike.
This research project focuses on the application of Open Source Drug Discovery to poorly functioning markets for drug innovation,
namely those of “neglected diseases”. These are diseases endemic to developing countries where individuals and society are
unable to pay the high prices required to spur on pharmaceutical research and development. These are also referred to by WHO
as Type II and III diseases. Type II are those diseases that are incident to both rich and poor countries, but with a substantial
proportion of the cases in poor countries (for example, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis). Type III are those diseases that are overwhelmingly
or exclusively incident in the developing countries (such as trypanosomiasis and onchocerciasis).
This is a multidisciplinary project, principally focusing on the area of health economics, but also taking into account research
performed in the fields of law (pertaining to intellectual property), bioinformatics, public health, business administration,
philosophy and ethics.
The research objectives are:
1. To identify the facilitators and barriers to uptake of open source licensing in general (a systematic review)
2. To establish the economic, legal, structural and practical factors pertaining to the uptake of Open Source Drug Discovery
amongst researchers and institutions that perform research on Type II and III medicines/vaccines
3. To learn from the experiences of Open Source Drug Discovery initiatives regarding if and how they can attract volunteers
and create a collaborative model
4. To develop a robust Open Source Drug Discovery business model that promotes the facilitating factors and inhibits the
barriers for uptake followed by an evaluation of the viability of the model
These objectives should assist with the ultimate objective of assessing whether the use of open source can assist in generating
new vaccines and drugs for Type II and III diseases more quickly and cheaply than traditional business models based on intellectual
This research project is funded by the Research Council of Norway, hosted at the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for Health Services and linked to the Institute of Health and Society at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo.
Annette Alstadsæter is an advisor for the project. She is an Associate Professor for the Department of Health Management and Health Economics,
University of Oslo. Annette holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration.
Christine Årdal is the principal researcher for the project. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oslo. Christine holds a Bachelor
of Science in Business (1994) from Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota as well as a Master of Business Administration
(2001) from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. Christine has worked in the healthcare industry for more than
10 years in U.S.A., United Kingdom and Norway.
John-Arne Røttingen is the primary advisor to the project. He is the Chief Executive of the Norwegian Knowledge Center for Health Services and
adjunct professor at the University of Oslo. He is a MD and additionally holds a Ph.D. from the University of Oslo and a Master
of Science in Epidemiology from the University of Oxford. John-Arne has been the chief delegate for Norway in WHO negotiations
regarding public health, innovation and intellectual property rights.
Stephen Maurer is an advisor for the project. He is Director of the Goldman School Project on Information Technology and Homeland Security
("ITHS"). ITHS serves as a focal point for the School's science, innovation, technology initiatives. Steve holds a B.A. degree
from Yale University and a J.D. in law from Harvard University. He is one of the founders of the concept of open source drug
For more information about the project or for questions, please contact Christine Årdal at christine.ardal (at) kunnskapssenteret.no