A new coalition for sharing pharma IP takes aim at the increasing burden of neglected tropical diseases in the developing world.
According to the World Health Organization, neglected tropical diseases affect more than one billion of the world’s poorest 2.7 billion people. Many of these diseases, which can cause blindness and other debilitating symptoms, have reached endemic levels in 149 countries and territories. In a difficult-to-break cycle, such diseases are born in poverty-stricken areas, and then shackle patients to that poverty when symptoms prevent populations from working; and of course, the cost of treatment compounds the issue.
A new consortium of public and private sector organizations spearheaded by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)—dubbed WIPO Re:Search—aims to promote the development of new vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics to treat neglected tropical diseases through intellectual property (IP) sharing. Organizations committed to the new consortium include pharma players AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, Merck, Eisai, and Alnylam; in addition, BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), the NIH, and nonprofits such as the California Institute of Technology, the Center for World Health & Medicine, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, Medicines for Malaria Venture, and others are on board.
“The demand for these products is huge,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO at a round table discussion held on October 26th at WPIO’s Geneva headquarters. “As we all know, market forces fail to drive innovation, because this particular market has virtually no capacity to pay; any price, when you multiply it by the millions, is way too high for the bottom billion to pay. With the world now facing a new era of financial austerity, I view innovation as a key way to maintain the great momentum for better health that marked the start of this century.”
Don Joseph, COO of BIO Ventures for Global Health, agrees. “Today, biopharmaceutical companies invent most of the new medicines for cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. These are diseases that offer companies a clear commercial return for their investments,” he says. “But neglected tropical diseases do not promise the same type of financial return. This financial reality makes it difficult for biopharmaceutical companies to invest the millions of dollars and 10+ years of research and development needed to create a new drug, vaccine, or diagnostic. WIPO Re:Search brings the horsepower typically expended on developed world diseases to bear on the neglected tropical diseases of the developing world.”
WIPO Re:Search is a searchable, royalty-free public database of available assets, resources, patent rights, expertise, and knowledge, to which any individual or institution can gain access and express interest in obtaining additional proprietary information. WIPO Re:Search’s Partnership Hub will connect neglected disease researchers to one or more of the pharmaceutical companies, research institutions, or government organizations that have resources or expertise to help move the neglected disease research project forward.
During the round table discussion, David Brennan, CEO of AstraZenenca—which has made its entire patent portfolio available to the consortium—said: “We need to make more progress. I don’t think we can underestimate in any way the social consequences, or the policy and health consequences.”
“I hear this time and time again from ministers of health: a vaccine or medicine that is too expensive is worse than having no vaccine or no medicine at all,” said Dr. Chan at the round table. “Equally important … in developing countries is support and assistance that helps them build their own R&D capacity and to manage their own priority diseases and health needs. The objective of any form of health development should be to build self-reliance; in other words, good aid aims to put itself out of business.”