Thursday, June 17, 2004

Open-Source Medicine

The open-source model gained popularity with the wide acceptance of the Linux operating system. The model is based on a free-for-all framework allowing anybody to contribute to the end product. The huge success of this model has prompted others to apply similar models in other industries.

The Economist carries an article (An open-source shot in the arm?) that foresees an open-source model for medical research. This model would allow researchers to collaborate and share their findings with their peers. The benefits would be enormous if such a system could be created. Presently, a company developing a new medicine is expected to spend a lot of money and resources in research. The company is only rewarded when the research is proven successful and a patent is obtained for the product. But, once the product is patented there is no monetary benefit for other companies in further developing or enhancing the product. So there are probably other valuable medicines that are not being developed for this reason.

By allowing multiple companies to participate in a research project, the open-source model would cut down the cost of research. This would encourage more companies to actively pursue common goals and interests. The end product would obviously be cheaper than traditionally developed products. The savings flow all the way to consumer. The bottom-line, a society with much lower health-care costs.

There is also downside to the model. Unlike open-source software development, the resources required for even the simplest medical research are very high. Even to participate in such a model companies need to invest to sizable amount of money. And with no regulatory authority to monitor and consolidate research information, companies would hesitate to jump in. What we need is an organization that would build an open-source framework to support medical research. Such a framework would allow researchers to post and share their findings and effectively produce useful products. Moreover this body should ensure that such open-source products be properly tested and marketed so that every participant benefits from them.

With costs soaring in every industry there is definitely a need for more open-source models. If successfully applied in other areas, the open-source model will soon become a management concept that could provide a tremendous boost to the economy. So, how about an open-source car?

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