Frequently asked Questions

Join the Open Chemistry Networks

We are looking for synthetic chemists to participate in this initiative. 

Chemical probes are key tools to help discover biology, and the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), and its industry and academic partners, aim to make chemical probes for most human proteins.   We have far more exciting protein targets than we have available chemistry, which is why the SGC is offering biology and biochemistry expertise to the global chemistry community to access your insight and expertise. 
In this partnership, the participants (you!) will synthesize new bioactive small molecules and the SGC will characterize what they do. Together we will discover new biology and new disease mechanisms. The Open Chemistry Networks (OCN) will be open and patent-free. Think distributed chemistry on a planetary scale and for the public good.

Join OCN today by emailing to express your interest.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is involved in OCN?

This is an SGC initiative, and all SGC sites are contributing biochemistry and cell biology. There are synthetic chemistry contributors throughout the SGC, and the Head of Open Chemistry Networks is Professor Mat Todd at University College London.

What is open-source science?

Open-source science means that on top of sharing everything, anyone can participate.  The licenses and Terms of Use and Participation applied to contributions are comparable to a Creative Commons CC-BY-4.0 license (Wikipedia’s license), except that they apply not only to copyrighted works but to any type of contribution, including the chemistry itself. These contributions are openly licensed for use by others, with the exception that the originator must be properly credited.

If the projects are open, who owns them?

The projects would be owned collectively and would include the original contributors, the biologists, the most active synthetic chemists, and the industry mentors.  The outputs of the projects – the chemistry and data – are dedicated to the public domain, which means that nobody and everybody owns them: they are a common resource for use by the research community. 

If there are no patents, how can we use probes to make drugs?

Probes are tools to discover biology.   If the biology is interesting, and there is an interest in drug discovery, then the project would inevitably require additional (inventive) chemistry to optimize the pharmacology of the molecule.  This would occur outside the OCN project and only after the chemical probe is identified.  There would be no restriction on patenting any subsequent work, but it is also important to appreciate that patents are not needed to incentivize drug discovery and development – many “first-in-class” compounds have been brought to market without patent protection. 

What’s a “chemical probe?” Is it a drug?

A probe is not a drug, but it could be an excellent starting point for a drug. A probe is a highly potent and selective inhibitor of a protein target that is also proven to interact with the protein target in a cell.  A drug may be similar in what it achieves but also must be optimized for drug-like parameters.  A chemical probe is often more selective than a drug.

Can we publish this science?

Yes, and that is essential. There are lots of examples of great papers based on research that has been carried out in the public domain. In addition, OCN will use preprints to share evolving drafts of papers, and contributors will become co-authors as the science advances.

Can SGC help me seek funding to do the chemistry? 

Absolutely. For this initiative to scale to hundreds of probes, the SGC is keen to work with you on applications for funding for synthetic chemistry. The biology that will be performed by the SGC will be a major in-kind contribution to such proposals.

I have some new chemistry and I’m looking for applications in biology. Can you help?

Yes. OCN would love to work with you to show the usefulness of new chemistry through the synthesis of structures needed for understanding new biology. Also, if you read a new chemistry paper describing some methodology that could be used to make one of the structures, contact OCN so we can connect the chemistry and biology teams.

Would you like physical samples?

Yes. The full Terms of Use and Participation contain very standard material transfer terms and SGC can provide a very simple record form for transfers to make this easy. SGC will retain the sample for the foreseeable future. It’s important that others can be given samples if that is possible.  For very promising chemical probes, we will aim to make them available through low-cost commercial vendors on a non-exclusive basis, in the same way, that the SGC has done for its probe collections so that we can facilitate the broadest community uptake of your chemistry. Neither SGC nor the original contributors of compounds will profit from probe distribution.

I have a biology target that I’m interested in and I would like molecules made – could you include it?

We’d love to hear about it, and it depends on who (you or the SGC) would do the biological evaluation. We can put the project in the public domain and seek ways to advance it if you can commit to the Terms of Use and Participation.

Why don’t you just pay to get the molecules you want synthesized?

Of course, we can always buy molecules designed by us.  However, this is limiting.  The power of the OCN initiative is to create a collaborative team that can not only invent new openly available chemical probes but also work together to solve fundamental biology problems.  Moreover, by crowdsourcing synthesis, we will also help to train early career researchers.  Complex synthesis projects can be great targets for collaborative PhD projects. 

What kinds of people are you looking for?

Synthetic chemists, from anywhere in the world and people who can make molecules. This could be postdocs and PhD students who are excited to contribute to the discovery of new biology. The network will be quite diverse - perhaps you’re a Masters student looking for an interesting synthesis project. Maybe you’re a university or teacher looking for a synthesis project to give your new lab class so that your students can make samples that will be used in current biomedical research. Maybe you work in the pharmaceutical sector or a Contract Research Organization and would like to contribute resources pro bono. All these groups are crucial, and all are very welcome. Open science projects are inclusive.

What do I need to do to join OCN?

If you agree with the Terms of Use and Participation, you can start contributing to a project. There’s no sign-up procedure, however, you should have your employer organization authorize your contribution if your employer would own the rights to intellectual property that you’d create in a project.

Who can I speak with at OCN?

Each science project will have its own team alongside regular monthly online meetings that will be open to anyone who wishes to join OCN. Questions about the initiative can be emailed to Professor Mat Todd.

What is the benefit of joining OCN?

The benefit of joining OCN is to advance science and to secure research papers and research grants. Contributors will be part of an expert team that includes scientists at the SGC, specializing in the probe’s biological area. The team will also include a mentor from the pharmaceutical industry. You’ll receive data on your compounds quickly, allowing the team to co-publish the research. 

I don’t have access to a lab. Can I still contribute?

Yes. We need brainpower to ensure we are making the most useful molecules in a particular project. We also need OCN Student Project Champions to help manage projects, identify new contributors, and help develop software platforms. Each project will be different and will have different non-lab needs.

How do I find out about becoming an OCN Champion? 

Student champions are vital to the success of OCN and are essential to building momentum for the project, acting as supporters and advocates, and expanding the OCN community. Visit the Sir James Murray OCN Champions Program webpage for more information on this key role. 

If I decide to take part, what if someone else decides to join and work on the same thing?

There are no restrictions on what contributors choose to focus on. If another contributor starts working on something similar you will be made aware because everything is in the public domain. This allows contributors to work together, dividing tasks when that’s productive, or working towards similar goals if that accelerates progress. We would always want to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort.

Do I need to commit long-term? 

Contributors are free to do as much as they like. The only commitment required of contributors is an agreement to the Terms of Use and Participation.

Summary of OCN’s Terms of Use and Participation

Participants agree to follow the OCN’s Terms of Use and Participation, the core features of which are summarized below:

  1. SGC contributes biochemistry, structural biology, and cell biology in kind. Participants will provide chemistry in-kind. There is no additional funding for projects.
  2. All contributions to projects from participants and SGC will be made open source - no patents or other intellectual property rights may be filed on contributions.
  3. Contributions made to OCN will be open for sharing and used by others in real-time. Users will be expected to provide the appropriate credit to the individual who made the contribution, refer to the OCN Terms of Use and Participation when sharing, and adhere to legal and ethical standards of use.
  4. Participants are likewise free to use contributions of the SGC and others under the same terms. For example, participants are welcome to use project data generated with their compounds in any grant applications or scientific presentations of their choosing, subject to providing appropriate credit, but without the need to seek further permission.
  5. Participants can determine the publication strategy for their chemistry. Each project will also have its own ‘living paper’ jointly authored by contributors as the project moves forward. Manuscripts will be submitted to pre-print servers at select milestones and ultimately for final publication in peer-reviewed, open access journals.
  6. Compounds that meet the criteria established for a project (e.g., potency, selectivity, cell permeability, etc.) along with associated project data may be selected for inclusion in SGC’s chemical probes program, through which SGC may make the compounds available to the research community, either directly or through third-party vendors. Neither the organization that contributed to the chemistry nor the SGC will receive any financial benefit from the distribution of compounds.
  7. Materials that are transferred from one participant to another during a project must only be used for research purposes according to applicable legal and ethical standards and may not be used in human subjects. Those providing materials to a project must disclose known hazardous properties and risks.
  8. Participants will be expected to acquire approval for their involvement with OCN from their academic institution/employer, where such authorization is required. If you are unsure if consent is required by your academic institution/employer, you can inform your supervisor about the project and the Terms of Use and Participation. Each participant is responsible for ensuring proper organizational approval.

The above summarizes some of the key features of (and is not a substitute for) the full Terms of Use and Participation. Participants should carefully review the full Terms of Use and Participation prior to participating in or using information from, an OCN project. Should you have any questions regarding these conditions, please send enquiries to Professor Mat Todd.

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