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Just in time for our final interview Lee, the latest Nature (11 May 2016) published a supplement on Open Innovation – where the SGC is mentioned in 5 out of 9 articles – congratulations! I think this really highlights what we’ve been discussing so far about the SGC’s Open Access research model, the generation of novel research tools for basic and translational scientists which are made available without patents to any research community that wants to use them and how these are making a global impact.

At the end of our previous interview, you mentioned you are working with non-traditional communities to help further explore the open access model. Tell us more about this.

The lay community has always regarded the pharmaceutical industry as the main (if not the only) institution that can bring medicines to patients, and that academic and clinical researchers mayoccasionally contribute to these discoveries. Whilst this isn’t entirely accurate, it is not very far from the actual practice, as different players operate in isolated siloes. This means that only larger, well-resourced groups  are able totake on the challenge of finding new medicines.

Luckily enough with the emergence of open science/ open source initiatives, we are witnessing  real change in the way many initiatives operate, through fast sharing of data, information  and knowledge (eg. social media, manufacturing with 3D printing, distance education), enabling a Do-It-Yourself culture where everyone can contribute and create – and it’s the same for biomedicine.

As one of the first large initiatives to operate under open access model for drug discovery, SGC has reached out beyond the usual suspects (pharmas, academics, Contract Research Organisations – CROs and funders) and initiated partnerships and collaborations with patients and disease foundations, as well as economists, social scientists, policy makers and think-tanks.

That’s a really clear overview on how the open model is breaking down the walls, but how can these different groups, like patients and disease charities, really help in drug discovery?

Patients groups and disease foundations are great examples of communities using open initiatives to share their experiences and best practices with a sharp focus on their own diseases. Many  such organisations have come a long way, self-educating using open source material and data, and structuring fundraising campaigns and strategies to enable novel research. Even though larger foundations have long been funding projects, there are many smaller groups concentrating on rarer diseases who are still not fully engaged in early-stage research. And for most of these groups, there is a critical lack of understanding about disease biology, for which the development of research toolkits (see part I) and unrestricted sharing will accelerate the generation of knowledge to help address their own conditions. This is a gap for which the SGC is well-prepared and experienced at bridging – a strategy that enables new scientists to delve deeper into novel biology and facilitates the creation of new cohorts of specialists with the help of patient and disease foundations. New partnerships between the SGC and disease foundations under open access agreements (see SGC-CHDI partnership) immediately connect two complementary ecosystems – the SGC’s academic-industrial network of leading pre-clinical scientists to the disease foundations’ umbrellas of clinical experts and the patients themselves, all sharing information, data and resources to ensure less duplication and a higher degree of strategy integration.

It’s a win-win for all. So far the SGC has partnered with CHDI (Huntington’s Disease), several FOP associations (Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva, aka stone man syndrome), Myeloma UK and the Brain Tumour Charity – and we are in discussion with several other groups, who are all very keen to join the SGC’s open platform.

This is very exciting! Where can we find out about all the different partnerships and how we in MedSci can get involved?

We will be launching a new portal and accompanying publications in the coming months, so watch this space! If you are interested and would like to learn more about how we can work together and with our patient groups just drop me an e-mail directly.

I’m  very curious since you mentioned that you are working with social scientists and economists: what are the overlaps and how are you going to implement collaborations on that front?

As we are an open initiative, this creates an unique opportunity for social scientists to track a live sociological experiment! Social scientists are used to examining data from past social events and initiatives, but have no  means of testing hypothesis in real-time. With the advent of open and social networks, this has been more possible but mainly with the lay communities. Despite what you’d expect, we know (and have experienced) that it is harder to convince academics to subscribe to open initiatives than their industrial colleagues. But rather than second guessing why, we’ve initiated discussions with social scientists asking them to join us and examine the phenomenon in real-time and, when the opportunity arises, create social experiments to explore their hypothesis.

On the economics front, we’d like to understand the qualitative and quantitative impacts of adopting open science models in the early (and typically high-risk) stages of drug discovery: what are the financial benefits for all participating groups when resources are pooled and risk is shared  ascompared to the traditionally closed model where one entity/ institution tries to develop everything on their own? We will be involving health and macro economists to model different strategies using open science: different degrees of openness for different biomedical challenges – eg. organisational strategy to tackle dementia will be different from oncology –asking how, whether and how long to deploy open access models on these different scenarios.

We have been working with different groups at the University including the The Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) and the Oxford Martin School, to create a taskforce to examine many aspects of the research fronts mentioned here . We have also intiated discussions outside the University with other international groups interested in examining the same aspects in their own local ‘ecosystems’, but all eager to discuss and share learnings and strategies to create new ways in which we can (and have to!) organise ourselves to tackle biomedical challenges in a more efficient manner.

This is really inspiring Lee, thanks a lot for sharing yours and the SGC’s vision on how the Open model can really help us all work better together, for the benefit of patients and society. I have really enjoyed our discussions during the past months and I am looking forward to hear more exciting news in the coming months!

Thank you Alison and the MedSci division for supporting all of our work here in Oxford and for giving us the platform to share with our local community. I’d like to finish by highlighting that none of our work would have been possible without the support of friends and visionaries like Prof Alastair Buchan, Sir Peter Ratcliffe and Sir John Bell. They have paved our way by championing Open Innovation at the University since early 2003, way before this became mainstream with many (if not most) universities still trailing behind.

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