Three Burning Questions with Max Morgan

First-hand thoughts and experiences on the Open Science Journey

Finding cures for rare diseases requires exponentially increasing our information sharing and collaboration through Open Science – the opposite of current, traditional practices in drug development. Meet Max Morgan, Senior Legal Counsel and Director of Public Policy at the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC). Through SGC’s M4K Pharma Open Science framework, Mr. Morgan is moving beyond intellectual property and data barriers to create a culture of change and advance treatment development for rare childhood diseases.

How have you found the transition to Open Science?

Max Morgan: It’s been somewhat difficult as a lawyer working in this space, as there isn’t much familiarity in the profession around Open Science, and the bar tends to be fairly conservative around intellectual property (IP). All the templates for agreements in research tend to be highly IP-centric and there can be a lot of adaptation and cajoling required to facilitate open collaboration.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how willing different types of actors have been to contribute to Open Science initiatives – not only academic labs, but pharmaceutical companies, CROs (contract research organizations), AI companies, reagent suppliers... All have found motivations for engaging in SGC’s open programs. They can be very open to open collaborations without exclusive IP, and are often more interested in engaging with academics to access expertise, tacit know-how and facilities, and to share research costs with other funders and institutions.

What convinced you that Open Science was the way to go?

MM: I came to view the dominant innovation paradigm for drug research and development – heavily reliant on IP and data secrecy – as flawed in several respects. For example, firms heavily invest in creating novel medicines in some therapeutic areas, but at high monopoly pricing that often excludes those most in need or imposes large burdens on public funders. They underinvest in other areas because of market failure, and business models aim to keep product monopolies for as long as possible. In addition, there are high inefficiencies in allocating overall R&D spending due to duplication of effort when many companies pursue the same ‘hot’ targets in parallel. I became convinced that an Open Science paradigm is a better framework not only for creating these enabling tools for drug discovery on new targets but also as a more efficient engine for a therapeutic needs-based ecosystem for discovering and bringing new drug candidates forward into the clinic, particularly in areas of market failure.

What role can industry play in Open Science?

MM: I think if well-managed and coordinated, Open Science partnerships that involve industry have the potential to address areas of high therapeutic need and market failure – by distributing and sharing risk across a range of institutions, leveraging public and philanthropic funding (increasingly aligned with Open Science practices), sharing data to eliminate wasteful redundancy on failed targets, reorienting priorities around therapeutic need, and leveraging alternative, non-monetary motivations for contributions from researchers. 

Join the discussion! Max Morgan will be at the Neuro Open Science in Action Symposium: Open Science and Rare Diseases session at 12:20 p.m. EST on Tuesday, November 23, 2021.

Learn more about the 2021 Neuro Open Science in Action Symposium. Registration is free! 

Note: Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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