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Konstantin Hondros & Milena Leybold

Is an open source vaccine inside?

Just over a year ago, Milena Leybold and Leonhard Dobusch asked, Why is there no open-source vaccine against Covid-19? and discussed arguments why open-source vaccines are difficult to achieve. In March 2022, The Financial Times published an article by Donato Paolo Mancini, Jamie Smyth, and Joseph Cotterill asking Will ‘open-source’ vaccines narrow the inequality gap exposed by Covid? (behind a subscription barrier) and indicating that the landscape of open-source vaccines may have changed substantially.This blog post is thought of as a reply and extension to this very informative report that introduces mainly two organizations producing or aiming to produce open-source vaccines: Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines (Afrigen) and the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development (CVD with their vaccine Corbevax). For sure, Afrigen and CVD approach vaccine development, production, and distribution much more openly than most of the vaccines dominating the market. Still, it is unclear to what extent they should be considered as “open-source.” To clarify this topic, we scrutinize what an open-source vaccine ideally could be, to what degree Afrigen or CVD fit the ideals of open-source, and what other attempts for open-source vaccine alternatives are currently under development.

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This post is provided by Suela Simoni, Student Assistant at Innsbruck University

While the concept of “open source” emerged as a radically open and transparent way of developing software, it is increasingly applied in other contexts as well. In pharmaceutical open source projects, for example, anyone can contribute at any time to the project, methods and data are in the public domain, and data is released as soon as it is acquired. However, compared to the software industry, open source approaches struggle to take ground in the pharma industry. As of December 2021 there has not been a single molecule worldwide, which has been discovered, developed, and brought to market completely open source. There are a few examples of patent-free molecules that have been going through clinical trials: one is the Praziquantel and the second one is the Fexinidazole. Since only a part of the process has been done openly in these cases, they cannot be considered to be completely ‘open source’. Using the example of the initiative “Open Source Malaria” and outlining the challenges they face, I will discuss why developing drugs and vaccines based on open source principles represents a difficult endeavor.

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The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
November 2022

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