Page last updated at 12:13 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Drug firm boost to malaria fight

Red blood cell with plasmodium parasites
All the molecules have been tested against the Plasmodium parasite, seen above invading a blood cell, which is known to cause malaria.

Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is to reveal previously confidential data on thousands of potential anti-malaria compounds.

In addition to this, the company is to pump millions into an 'Open Lab' for independent research teams.

The company has 13,500 molecules which have been tested against the parasite which causes malaria.

One expert said more sharing of data could trigger advances like those that came from the human genome project.

The way in which pharmaceutical firms guard the secrets of their drugs and research has long been cited as an obstacle to disease research.

The research community can start to build up a public repository of knowledge that should be as powerful as the human genome databases
Dr Timothy Wells, Medicines for Malaria Venture

The latest announcement by GSK chief executive Andrew Witty, follows an earlier decision to set up a "patent pool" where information about patented drugs could be shared.

In a speech in New York, he said that it was important to "earn the trust" of society.

"The measures we have announced today are characterised by a determination to be more flexible, open and willing to learn.

"GSK has the capability to make a difference and a genuine appetite to change the landscape of healthcare for the world's poorest people."

Millions scanned

The data in question is the result of a year's effort by GSK scientists to study a disease which still claims almost a million lives a year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.

The company holds a "library" of millions of different molecules, and each of these was tested against the Plasmodium falciparum parasite which causes malaria.

The result was 13,500 which appeared to have an effect on it, although extensive further research would be needed to narrow down this list into those most likely to succeed as new drugs.

Dr Timothy Wells, Chief Scientific Officer of the Medicines for Malaria Venture, which has worked with GSK on the project, said it had the potential to "dramatically alter" the way the world approached malaria research.

"By sharing the data, the research community can start to build up a public repository of knowledge that should be as powerful as the human genome databases and could set a new trend to revolutionise the urgent search for new medicines to tackle malaria."

Dr Mallika Kaviratne, from the Malaria Consortium, a not-for-profit organisation, said it could boost access to medicines for developing countries, as resistance to existing drugs was an important issue.

She added: "The release of 13,500 molecules made to the public is very important - we have nothing else in the pipeline - and new drugs need to be developed, but they're expensive."

Professor Peter Winstanley, from the Liverpool School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that the decision was a "step in the right direction".

He said: "It looks like the chief executive has said: 'What's the sense of sitting on 13,500 molecules which perhaps have antimalarial properties when other people might be more interested in them than we are?'.

"How, while there's a slight possibility that we may have new drugs from this in the next five years, it is more likely to happen over the next 10 to 20 years, and that will take a lot of work, some luck, and a lot of money."

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Reuters HealthGlaxo offers free malaria research, vaccine nears - 8 hrs ago
Telegraph GSK steps up fight against malaria - 19 hrs ago
Sky News Drug Giant To Reveal Secrets In Malaria Fight - 20 hrs ago Glaxo offers malaria cure for free - 26 hrs ago
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