For over 20 years, Folding@home has relied almost exclusively on government agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) for financial support. We’ve also been fortunate to collaborate across academia and with various industry collaborators (perhaps the most famous example being our collaboration with Sony around the PS3).
Now, the combination of the pandemic and scientific advances presents a broad array of new opportunities to increase Folding@home’s impact on science and human health.
First and foremost, it is increasingly clear that the technology that the Folding@home community has helped develop (in concert with the broader scientific community) is ripe for translational applications that improve global health. Our work has helped repurpose a flu drug for use against other threatening viruses, and a clinical trial was just about to get underway before it was disrupted by the pandemic. We have made some initial steps in the protein design world, showing that we can control both enzyme activity and stability. And our collaboration with the COVID Moonshot is about to nominate a clinical candidate for an oral SARS-CoV-2 antiviral followed by rapid pursuit of pan-coronavirus inhibitors to prevent future pandemics . Data from biochemical tests, antiviral assays, and safety tests looks promising, and we are actively working with collaborators to fund clinical trials.
Our experience during the pandemic has also demonstrated that collaborating with industry presents huge (and previously untapped) opportunities. Computing companies helped us scale up quickly to manage the rapid growth in participation in our COVID-19 research, and have enabled us to advance open science by hosting our enormous datasets online for anyone who wants it to download. Hardware vendors have helped us to optimize and expand our on premise capacity. And open collaboration with pharmaceutical companies (all completely in the public domain!) through the COVID Moonshot has demonstrated the power of combining our respective expertise. All the results are in the public domain, and the aim of the collaboration is to develop a patent free treatment for COVID-19 disease that can be made and distributed cheaply to anywhere in the world where there is need.
Given these developments, we are excited to announce a number of new open science collaborations with industry collaborators, all of which we will pursue under an open science framework that is completely in the public domain. As with all the data generated on Folding@home, everything we do in collaboration with our industry collaborators will be available to anyone who wants it (see our OSF and AWS Public Datasets repositories). In fact, our new collaborators have a “bit” more cash on hand, and are using those resources to help make the data we generate with them available AS IT IS GENERATED. This step is a new high-water mark in open science, at least in our field.
Our new collaborators have a number of motivations. Some common themes are:
- To give back to open science projects, as many have created open datasets that form part of the foundation for private drug discovery efforts (e.g. the protein databank, where scientists are required to post new structures that they solve experimentally).
- To enhance publicly available algorithms and software that are useful across science, both in academic and industrial research.
- To test new ideas in a public setting where everyone from scientists to potential investors can evaluate their performance.
The main focus of our initial collaborations will be on testing and improving advanced simulation methods, like our adaptive sampling strategies.
I believe that there will be many more opportunities. A top priority for us will always be to make sure that the public service our volunteers perform results in public good. If you are interested in collaborating with us, we can be reached at contact [at] foldingathome.org.
As a final note, I am frequently asked “what has Folding@home achieved?” Over the years my answer to this question has evolved quite a lot. In the mid 2000s I would tell people that we had developed crucial tools and used them to advance our understanding of fundamental biological processes, like protein folding. More recently, I have been proud to tell people that we helped enable a clinical trial of an antiviral drug, and are moving closer to a second every day. The entire Folding@home community (from volunteers to scientists) works hard to ensure that the one-of-a-kind computing platform we’ve built together enables this list of wins to grow quickly. With the price tag for developing a new drug typically exceeding $1B USD, we clearly can’t do this alone, and welcome the help of similarly-minded industry collaborators that share our open science mission to positively impact human health.
So, I am excited to expand our collaborative efforts to include new members from industry, starting with Silicon Therapeutics and Redesign Science. I hope that we can count on your continued support. Your feedback is always welcome as we continuously iterate on our science and our policies, and we thank you for trusting us. More details will be forthcoming shortly.