The latest victory in the Myriad Genetics case in Australia, allowing Myriad Genetics to patent isolated DNA has sparked new debate over the development of new drugs to treat cancer. At the forefront of a grass roots movement in this debate is Viratech.org, run by a subsidiary of Viratech Corp., which claims to be the first open source biotech research and development platform, and brings to the biotech industry what the software industry has enjoyed and which many attribute to the current IT explosion. Popular products such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chromium, Android and the Apache Open Office Suite, were all developed with open source.
Viratech’s patent-pending method of allowing open source research and development of biotech inventions emulates the open source research and development of software which led to the huge current advance in information technology. Its premise is simply to use the social networking phenomena of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and apply it to the biotech world, where many new treatments and diagnostics are either gobbled up by Big Pharma and never developed, or never developed for lack of IP protection and financing. For example, Avastin, the leading cancer treatment drug by Genetech/Roche, which is used to treat metastatic cancers, such as colorectal, lung, kidney and ovarian cancers, reached $2.66 billion in sales in the U.S. alone in 2012, and worldwide sales of $5.98 billion worldwide. Avastin was released to the market 16 years ago and approved by the FDA for use in treating metastatic cancers in the U.S. in 2004-eight years ago. By contrast, in the past 16 years, cell phones were the size of bricks and now everyone has one in their pocket. In 2004, Facebook was first launched, and now has over 1 billion users, but the content contributed by those billion users is trite and trivial, and doesn’t harness the huge power of social networking.
Viratech’s platform of promoting biotech development is not completely open source, however. It is designed to protect intellectual property, bypassing the traditional huge expense and worry of IP protection, allowing users of the site to share their IP, develop their technology, and amass a body of knowledge from that sharing protected by Copyright. This concept is nothing new. According the U.S. Copyright Office, Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.´ But it marks the first time that user generated content will be a part of a copyrighted work.
This first element, IP protection, is complemented by the elements of Promotion and Production of the technology, all using custom tailored interactive pages within the Viratech Social Network, called Micro Social Networks, owned by each user of the site who creates a page. Any user generated content that is contributed to the Micro Social Network owner’s site is, by Viratech’s terms of service and a separate permission layer, owned by that Micro Social Network owner and protected by his or her copyright.
Using the second prong of the Viratech model, Promote, each Micro Social Network user can promote their technologies by broadcasting them through a newswire service, which gets picked up on Google through the key words in each article. Readers of the article are blocked by a pop-up that asks them to join the Micro Social Network. Production is a feature which allows Micro Social Network owners to raise money for the research, development, and production of their technologies through crowd funding.
This innovative “licensing” of user content contributions to claim copyright over the entire body of knowledge is seen as a new way of protecting biotech inventions, so that their development can be open-sourced.
Viratech hopes their site can create a paradigm shift in health care, resulting in treatments that are less costly, and more available to those who need them. But the most interesting claim they make is that a cancer patient’s use of their new social networking website, http://cancer.im, devoted to cancer treatment, which is estimated by the American Cancer Society to have reached the $1 trillion mark, can actually improve survival rates in cancer patients. The site, being touted as “Facebook for Cancer Patients”, is based on medical studies that conclude that raising the quality of life of a cancer patient lowers the incidents of morbidity, regardless of treatment. The site has adapted 15 best practice interactive modules, from the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer’s QLQ-C30, designed to improve quality of life, to help each patient build their own customized support network.
The goal of Cancer.im is to enhance the quality of a cancer patient’s life by providing a base of medical information warehoused within a social networking platform that allows a cancer patient to stay close and connected with his or her loved ones and those that are close to them, as well as advocates and sponsors. Much like Facebook, the network will providing the much needed support and social interaction that those stricken with cancer thrive on to fuel their recovery. It is premised that, as Facebook has reconnected long lost friends and acquaintances through a “virtual connection”, the same can be done by friends and family who would otherwise be embarrassed to reach out to someone they know who is afflicted by cancer, or not know exactly what to do to help.
Cancer.im does this by allowing the Cancer Patient to connect with friends and family as well as search extensive databases of information regarding their condition, treatment, and wellness strategies. The knowledge they receive empowers them, and the modules help them accept their diagnosis, find a sponsor, research and evaluate new treatments, find an oncologist, and organize their finances and health insurance claims. With Obamacare’s objective of bringing together all offerings of medical providers through health insurance exchanges using the Internet, Cancer.im may go far in helping patients access all aspects of medical care by the Internet.