There is also increasing frustration with the existing innovation model for biopharmaceuticals in the developing world. In order to justify the considerable expense of developing drugs, pharmaceutical firms require a customer with the ability to pay on a scale sufficient to justify the investment.
Thus the poor in developing countries or even individuals in rich countries with diseases such as Parkinson disease that do not afflict large numbers of people find that there is not a lot of innovation in treatments for diseases that afflict them.
Due to this dilemma, the open-source movement has been gaining impetus in the developing world as people struggle with restrictions to their ability to innovate and adapt existing technologies to address critical issues.
There are several ways in which an open-source model can facilitate innovation in biotech. Due to the time and financial expense involved in biotech innovation, companies are increasingly seeking means of defraying costs through distributed innovation mechanisms.
Clearly, the market must be incentivized such that it is in the best interests of firms to make these investments. However, the argument here is that a more structural impact upon the innovation process can be had by adapting the open-source model to empower healthcare providers and scientists across a global network and allow developing country entrepreneurs to make improvements upon existing technologies.
Specifically, this model entails:
- having the results of government-funded research remain in the public domain and be freely available through the Internet so as to allow generic manufacturers to produce it,
- greater government support for the bioinformatics and biological database tools that are essential to promoting global collaboration and reducing drug development costs by virtualizing the process,
- creating an open-source license that allows users to patent what they create from their investments but does not restrict others from using the original shared information to make improvements and develop similar technologies, and
- having the development of drugs from government-financed research be awarded to a firm based upon competitive bids.
Such a model would allow companies to continue to derive financial benefits from their investments but create incentives for further innovation and also make low-cost production part of the criteria for being able to license government-funded pre-commercial R&D.
It would also enhance social returns by empowering more people to participate in the innovation process—particularly users of pharmaceutical technology such as healthcare providers and patients themselves.