Findings may result in development of urgently needed new TB drugs in India.

The government's Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) initiative released the results of its ‘Connect 2 Decode' (C2D) project to re-annotate the biological and genetic information relating to the Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) genome, at a conference here on Sunday.

This is the first time that a comprehensive mapping of the Mtb genome has been compiled, verified and made publicly available. C2D's findings may contain critical data to unlock previously undiscovered details of tuberculosis (TB); resulting in development opportunities for urgently needed new TB drugs in India and other developing countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 1.7 million people die annually from TB and that in some parts of the world, one in four people with TB has a form of the disease that can no longer be treated with standard drugs regimens. Despite this public health emergency, TB research funding, particularly for new drugs, remains alarmingly inadequate.

In addition, conventional market-based patent incentives are ineffective in addressing the public health needs in developing countries, with only 1 per cent of the newly developed drugs targeting neglected diseases.

“We need to have a balanced view between health as a right and health as a business. It is because there has been imbalance in this view that diseases like TB, with high mortality but low profitability, are neglected by the current system of pharmaceutical research,” said Dr. Samir K. Brahmachari, scientist and Director-General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

“As virtually no new TB drugs have been developed since the 1960s, the OSDD's model in particular holds great promise for the scientific community by stimulating the development of better drugs and diagnostics for patients,” he said.

With children and people living with HIV in India and other developing countries bearing the greatest burden of the disease, as well as the emergence and spread of TB that was resistant to treatment by the standard anti-TB drugs, there was an urgent global, but unanswered, need for new drugs.

“For us, the irony is that with the availability of drugs for HIV and particularly of safe and affordable Indian generics, we are living with HIV but dying of TB,” Loon Gangte of the Delhi Network of Positive People, a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS, said.

“TB research has yet to see any great progress as we struggle to pull ourselves out of a system that places profits before people's lives. India's OSDD project holds immense hope for my community.”

Under the C2D project, researchers and students pooled their time and skills using online tools to provide insights into 4000 genes of the deadly pathogen. The researchers also mapped the genes as they relate to functional interactions and pathways. Their work is held in a shared database, which the OSDD will share through a globally accessible database with any research institutions involved in TB research, through its open portal.

C2D demonstrates the power of people to connect through the internet, particular young people, and accomplish complex research tasks. It is also a distinct move from a hierarchical based model of doing science towards one of equal collaboration.

The OSDD was launched in September 2008 by the CSIR. It is a $35 million (Rs. 146 crore) collaborative research effort that focuses primarily on TB. Its objective is to accelerate R&D for TB drugs. With a global community of nearly 3,000 members from 74 countries, the OSDD brings together scientists, doctors, students, policy experts, software professionals and others to work on TB research.

It is the first project of its kind by any government.

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