PharmExec Blog

New Nonprofit Vaccine R&D, with love from Novartis

Salmonella. Typhoid. Shigella. Such are the diseases of the developing world. A few years back, eliminating these diseases was a non-issue for pharma—without any Western market, it didn’t register as a priority. But if you’ve followed the intersection of pharma and philanthropy over the years the way we have we have (on AIDS, TB, and malaria, then you’ve seen change coming.

The latest news comes today from Siena, Italy, where Novartis opened a new research institute that will focus on developing vaccines for diseases of the poor in third-world countries. The Novartis Vaccines Institute for Global Health is the first institute of its kind to be set up by a major vaccine manufacturer, according to the company. Initial disease areas of focus will be Salmonella enterica serovar typhi (S. typhi), Salmonella paratyphi A and nontyphoidal salmonellae, which are major killers of children. This expands Novartis’ already-established nonprofit effort, which includes the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases, a private/public partnership established with the country of Singapore to develop drugs to treat dengue fever and tuberculosis.

A Focus on Resistance

One thing these centers have in common is that they both study drug resistance, a growing problem the world over. Of course, we’ve heard a lot about drug resistance in the United States lately, with the government unveiling new higher-than-expected reports on the prevalence of MRSA.

  • More recently, Targanta filed an NDA for oritavancin, which—at least in clinical trials—seems less likely than other antibiotics to develop resistance.
  • There have also been some efforts at the government level to reinvigorate drug development for antibiotics. Last week, Wyoming Rep. Barbara Cubin introduced legislation proposing that March 2008 be named “MRSA Awareness Month.”

(You can read all about this and more by in Pharm Exec‘s February cover story on resistance by clicking here)

But with a focus on providing low cost drugs and an eye toward distribution in the most uncoordinated and complicated areas in the world, Novartis’ new research center seems to be the most promising effort of all when it comes to developing therapies that kill drug-resistant bacteria—or even better, stop them from developing in the first place.

What’s in It for Pharma?

So why would pharma get involved? If you ask Klaus Leisinger, executive director of the Novartis Foundation, corporate citizenship is the mark and rank of a successful business. But perhaps there are business motivations as well: Paul Herrling, head of corporate research at Novartis, says the world of Big Pharma has a lot to learn from nonprofit R&D. Herrling spoke to us about how this works. This is interesting stuff and worth clicking here to read more about it.

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One Comment

  1. Sameer Nanda
    Posted March 3, 2008 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Definitely these are good signs. However, looking purely in a business/ profitability angle, it makes sense to start concentrating on therapeutic areas related to diseases in developing countries because :

    1. Huge patient base, coupled with growing economy will make these countries greener pastures.

    2. Collaboration and cross pollination across research areas and people will always help new science to grow.

    3. Bacterial infections, specially community acquired and hospital acquired resistant infections will be important areas of research, irrespective of geography.

    4. Low cost research in developing countries can provide a “solid platform for further research” in many related areas.

    With a pure business perspective, it is debatable whether the time is ripe enough!! However, sooner or later things will start rolling…..

    - Sameer

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