Professors go online to revolutionize drug discovery

Two chemistry professors at IUPUI are laboring to create the McDonald’s of research laboratories—low-cost and all over the world.

Bill Scott and Martin O’Donnell have started a project called Distributed Drug Discovery, trying to lure in researchers and students at universities around the globe to collaborate over the Internet to discover new drugs.

The idea is to make it cheaper and faster to find drugs for diseases that plague poor countries and that big drug companies don’t focus on: tuberculosis, leprosy, leshmaniasis, dengue fever and Chagas disease, to name a few. And if researchers at drug and biotech companies get involved, the effort might even produce commercialized products to treat other diseases.

“People can coalesce around a common problem across barriers,” said Scott, a chemist who worked at Eli Lilly and Co. for 27 years.

“My belief is, if we publicize that, the World Health Organization, the Gates Foundation, all sorts of organizations are going to say, ‘We would be happy to fund the next stages in this process.’”

But the project has a long way to go. Scott and O’Donnell’s next steps are to get funding to pay someone to build a Web site for their Distributed Drug Discovery project. They also need to work out who will own the rights to any drugs their discovery network discovers.•

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