Open Source Mycetoma

Super exciting. Today I’m involved in launching Open Source Mycetoma (“MycetOS”) – an open source drug discovery project aimed at finding new medicines to treat the terrible fungal infection eumycetoma.

The background can be read in the preprint that we’re using to launch the project. In short, this is a disease for which there are no effective medicines. Encouragingly one clinical trial is being run. MycetOS is the backup.

By stepping on a thorn you can contract an infection for which the current best treatment is, well, amputation. It’s an awful, debilitating illness. I’ll refrain here from sharing uncensored images of patients, but please do an image search to see what I mean.

Censored version of

I remember well the atmosphere in the room at the ECTMIH meeting in Basel in 2015 where a session was run to highlight the clinical trial that had been announced. Listening to the Sudan-based medical expert, Dr Ahmed Fahal, there was shocked silence as he described what he had to do to treat his patients. Emerging from the room, the delegates seemed bewildered, and furious.

Eumycetoma (which we’re calling “mycetoma” just for simplicity, even though there is a bacterial version) is the newest addition to the official WHO list of neglected tropical diseases, and is to some extent the poster child of neglect. The disease is now on the hitlist of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), with whose leadership this project has materialised – Ben Perry and Jean-Robert Ioset have been driving things. The disease expert is Dr Wendy van de Sande in Rotterdam whose lab can evaluate compounds. My lab has pushed the open source mechanism and we’ve been working on the synthetic chemistry for a year or so.

But it’s an open source project, so if you want to be an equal partner in this endeavor, you can be. We’ve been running Open Source Malaria on several key principles, and the same ideas apply here. All data and ideas are shared in real time (e.g., as usual, online lab notebooks). Anyone can participate. No patents. You can read the press release for more, and a one-page description of MycetOS.

If you want to get stuck in, there’s a Github community where there are already some live “issues” that need your inputs: what to make next, and do you know of any possible sources of molecules we could screen? There’s a Reddit community too: we’re seeing which of Github or Reddit works best, or whether we can use both in parallel). News/social interactions will be via Twitter.

The worldwide mycetoma community, though small, is bigger than this one project, and we’re hoping people can use MycetOS to collaborate specifically on new small molecules with potential to treat the disease. We’re going to need funding, which is perhaps the largest item on the To Do List. Strength in numbers – if you’d like to be involved, please step forward.