A recent article in the New York Times discussed new ways being considered to decrease the cost and time required for new drug development (see: Seeking a Shorter Path to New Drugs). Read the whole article if you have the time. Embedded in it was the passage below that caught my attention:
[What's] smaller than a breadbox, can cost $800 million or more, and takes more than eight years to research and develop? [A new medicine and] that’s just for traditional drugs made by using old-fashioned chemical molecules. Developing new biopharmaceuticals — those high-tech wonder drugs fashioned from living cells — can cost $1.2 billion, according to the center....Now big-picture thinkers, within the industry and outside it, are re-examining every stage of drug development ...in an effort to foster faster innovation....The Massachusetts Institute of Technology...started a pharmaceutical innovation program this year to help drug companies adapt some successful approaches now used in aeronautics, like lean management and information-sharing among rivals....One short-term goal [of the program] is to identify, and rectify, the root causes of bottlenecks in the existing system....If [progress] is to happen, some drug companies that have been fierce rivals will have to play nicer....One idea is for drug makers to share information about compounds they have tried and shelved, for reasons like toxicity or inefficacy. Although many companies have committed to publishing the results of clinical trials, whether or not they succeed, drug makers don’t typically publish information about projects that fail at an earlier stage. A result is that companies waste many millions going down experimental paths that their competitors have already found to be dead ends....In the absence of a public database on failed drug compounds, a small group from the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. and the Harvard Business School has created Pharmer’s Market, an online prediction market that uses crowd-sourcing to forecast the likelihood of a drug’s success. Introduced last month, the market has invited biomedical researchers and other drug industry experts to place anonymous bets, using virtual money, on the likelihood that certain breast cancer drugs, currently in clinical trials, will succeed or fail.
The notion and rationale for encouraging pharmaceutical companies to reveal information about compounds that they have tried and shelved is self-evident and requires little further discussion. However, the idea of using crowd-sourcing to forecast the likelihood for the success of a candidate drug in clinical trials may be unknown to some readers. Here's a definition from the Wikipedia of crowd-sourcing which is a key component of prediction markets:
Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing them to a group (crowd) of people or community in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task (also known as community-based design and distributed participatory design), refine or carry out the steps of an algorithm (see Human-based computation), or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science).The term has become popular with businesses, authors, and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals.
Crowd-sourcing seems to work even in the apparent absence of respondents who have expertise in the topic under discussion. It seems to me, however, that an opinion about a candidate drug in clinical trials can be based on informed opinions from a broad segment of pharmaceutical researchers such as the history of similar compounds or adverse reactions to them. At any rate, this approach is certainly worth a try.