Something unthinkable is happening: the NIH is launching a new collaborative project with private companies to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Rival companies who wouldn’t have worked together on R&D even a few years ago are partnering up, with a group budget and shared data and samples. WaPo has more:
The companies that have signed up to participate include most of the large drug makers, which in the past had resisted calls to share detailed data and samples from experiments, preferring to instead use the information to gain lucrative patents.The agreement with NIH represents a major break from how they used to do business. The competing pharmaceutical companies have said they will hold off launching commercial ventures based on discoveries from the partnership until after the data has been made publicly available. The idea behind the collaboration is similar to that of the “open source” movement among some computer scientists who believe that sharing their code with anyone who wants it is the best way to innovate.
We don’t know enough yet to say how this will turn out—after all, one would be forgiven for being skeptical about a closer partnership between the federal government and Big Pharma. But if it works, it could have a big impact. The last great collaborative effort remotely of this type was the very successful Human Genome Project, in which scientists from 18 different countries worked together to map human DNA. Some of the applications coming out of that project were groundbreaking—and all of this was done without collaboration with the private sector.This new proposed program is targeted specifically at the four diseases mentioned above. But by bringing government and the private sector together to share information and innovate on treatment, this project could wind up spurring something much larger. We’ll be watching closely to see how this partnership interacts with the Human Genome Project and other cutting-edge personalized medicine projects going forward.