Just a month after Andrew Witty’s announcement that GSK will make more than 13,500 of its malaria compounds available to all, Pfizer, Merck, and Eli Lilly have thrown their do-gooder hats into the ring as well.
Together, the three drug giants will pull together an undisclosed dollar amount in seed funding and create the independent, non-profit Asia Cancer Research Group (ACRG). The new company’s purpose is to grab Asia’s lung and gastric cancer problem by the horns.
Neil Gibson, chief scientific officer of Pfizer’s oncology research unit, pointed out that there’s a “huge unmet need and a disproportionate health burden to Asian patients.” A significant portion of lung cancer in Asia seems to be related to a mutation in a gene that helps regulate cell growth and division—a mutation far more common in Asia than the West. Gastric cancer shares this skew, accounting for 630,000 deaths each year.
The ACRG will have a six-person research-specific board (two experts from each company) to approve major decisions and material. Lilly will provide virtual access through its research site in Singapore. Researchers can cull from at least 2,000 tissue samples as part of the ACRG’s two-year plan to create the biggest pharmacogenomic cancer database in the world. While research avenues into other cancers are a possibility in the future, the group’s focus for now is on lung and gastric cancer.
This is just the latest example of a pharma “open source” policy, a concept adopted by the techies long ago. Open-sourcing takes some of the pressure off R&D units, which have sustained heavy losses the last couple quarters.