When Tomasz Sablinski was working in pharmaceutical R&D, he was often frustrated by the demand for secrecy in the clinical trials process—a misdirected effort, he says, to keep competitors in the dark about what drug companies were up to. “The price you pay when you hide what you’re doing is you only get feedback from a precious few people,” he says. “There is very little new blood in the ideation process.”

Then Sablinski read an article about the open-source operating system Linux and he had an epiphany. “If said, ‘If computer coders can do open source, so can drug developers,’” he recalls. “You have to add patients to the mix, because they’re really the reason you’re doing drug development.”

So in late January, Sablinski and his company, Transparency Life Sciences, rolled out the beta version of a virtual community of physicians, scientists, and patients whose input is helping the company develop three drugs. The site (transparencyls.com), which is being managed by a handful of staff members in New York City and Boston, has only been live for a few weeks. But it has already attracted about 30 patients, who have been actively trading notes about their experiences and making suggestions for clinical trials, Sablinski says.