Tropical Disease Initiative

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Tropical Diseases Initiative = a decentralized, Web-based, community-wide effort where scientists from laboratories, universities, institutes, and corporations can work together for a common cause. (i.e. finding treatments for Orphan Diseases

  1. First, it would give hundreds of scientists a practical way to donate urgently needed manpower.
  1. Second, open source discoveries would not be patented, permitting sponsors to award development contracts to the company that offered the lowest bid.
  1. Finally, competition from generic drug makers would keep manufacturing prices at or near the cost of production, significantly accelerating drug development for the 500 million people who currently suffer from tropical diseases.



"Only about 1% of newly developed drugs are for tropical diseases, such as African sleeping sickness, dengue fever, and leishmaniasis. While patent incentives and commercial pharmaceutical houses have made Western health care the envy of the world, the commercial model only works if companies can sell enough patented products to cover their research and development (R&D) costs. The model fails in the developing world, where few patients can afford to pay patented prices for drugs.

It is easy (and correct) to say that Western governments could solve this problem by paying existing institutions to focus on cures for tropical diseases. But sadly, there is not enough political will for this to happen. In any case, grants and patent incentives were never designed with tropical diseases in mind.

Two main kinds of proposals have been suggested for tackling the problem. The first is to ask sponsors governments and charitiesto subsidize developing-country purchases at a guaranteed price. In the second approach, charities create nonprofit venture-capital firms (Virtual Pharmas), which look for promising drug candidates and then push drug development through contracts with corporate partners. In this article, we discussed the problems with these two approaches and suggest a third, open source, approach to drug development, called the Tropical Diseases Initiative (TDI). We envisage TDI as a decentralized, Web-based, community-wide effort where scientists from laboratories, universities, institutes, and corporations can work together for a common cause." (



African sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease are all examples of what are often termed "orphan diseases," because of the overall lack of attention paid to them by major drugmakers (despite afflicting millions of people every year). They are among the subjects of the Tropical Disease Initiative, an effort to develop open source medicines to fight orphan diseases. Although this research was not officially part of the TDI, it used a similarly open process.

According to [Kenneth] Stuart [of SBRI], as the genomes were being sequenced, data was posted on the Internet so that all researchers could have access. The completed sequences and their annotations are posted at This information is being reproduced on a two CD set, along with additional information and analytical software, for use by scientists without access to high-speed Internet services. The Wellcome Trust and the World Health Organization funded the CD set.

The three datasets are: Trypanosoma cruzi (Chagas); Trypanosoma brucei (African Sleeping Sickness); and Leishmania major.

Although much of the work was done in the US and Europe, the AAAS is sure to note that the majority of sequencing of "short strand DNA" -- used to identify the genes -- was done in Africa and South America." (

2. Janet Hope:

"The Tropical Disease Initiative (TDI) is an open source-style drug discovery scheme proposed in 2004 by lawyers Stephen Maurer and Arti Rai and computational biologist Andrej Sali.

Key to implementation of the TDI scheme is its partnership with the Synaptic Leap (TSL), a non-profit organisation founded in 2005 by a former commercial software industry executive. TSL’s goal is to extend the range of scientific collaborations beyond researchers’ personal networks by establishing a usable online open information and communications infrastructure.

Recognising that the provision of a “seed” or “kernel” of usable technology is an important ingredient in successful open source collaborations, researchers associated with TDI/TSL have recently published results identifying potential drug targets in ten organisms that cause tropical disease. " (