Each year, 1.7 billion citizens of developing countries need treatment for neglected diseases, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2016 World Health Statistics. In a dynamic global environment, pharmaceutical companies face myriad obstacles in supplying poverty stricken communities with necessary medicines and vaccines. Shareholders often question such pursuits, as the cost-benefit matrix of developing drugs for countries with political or economic instability provides limited financial gain, at best. Dr. Najib Babul, an accomplished pharmaceutical scientist, drug developer and biotech entrepreneur, explains a new model of partnership between the public and private sectors that can successfully advance global health initiatives.
Public-private partnerships have already helped address some of the world’s largest public health challenges, noted Dr. Babul. Following the declaration of smallpox’s eradication in 1980, Merck, the WHO, the World Bank, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the National Ministries of Health, and the Task Force for Global Health joined forces to launch a global initiative to distribute and administer treatment for river blindness. This campaign demonstrated that companies could successfully collaborate with government and non-profit partners, providing critical expertise in the areas of R&D, manufacturing, and distribution. In another example, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative collectively developed malaria candidate vaccine RTS,S (Mosquirix™), with grant monies from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to PATH and support from a network of African research centers that performed the studies. Mosquirix recently received a positive scientific opinion from the European Medicines Agency for the prevention of malaria in young children in sub-Saharan Africa. The WHO has announced that the Mosquirix vaccine will first be rolled out in pilot projects in 3 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The pilot program will assess whether the vaccine’s protective effects in Phase 3 clinical trials can be replicated in real-life settings.
Effective research remains the basis and most vital component of developing promising medicines, and again, it is partnership, rather than the competitive model, which has shown most promise in accelerating solutions. For example, Dr. Babul cites the Pool for Open Innovation Against Neglected Tropical Diseases, administered by the non-governmental organization Bio Ventures for Global Health, which is embracing data sharing by partnering with companies who agree to grant access to their compound “libraries”, and creating a singular, comprehensive collection of molecular entities. The initiative began with GSK’s efforts to create a “Patent Pool” for new therapeutics to treat neglected tropical diseases. Pharmaceutical companies, academia and non-governmental organizations are encouraged to donate drug compounds for neglected tropical diseases. GSK has donated over 800 patents and patent applications to the collaboration. The Patent Pool is targeting sixteen diseases that the U.S FDA has identified in its neglected tropical diseases initiative. To date, approximately 150,000 compounds have been screened for efficacy against diseases including African sleeping sickness, visceral leishmaniasis and Chagas disease, potentially allowing for results to be achieved efficiently and with greater accuracy.
A graduate of the University of British Columbia, the State University of New York in Buffalo and the California Institute of Advanced Management, Dr. Najib Babul is presently a drug development consultant to pharmaceutical companies and investment banks with over two decades of experience in bringing new drugs to market. Dr. Babul is the author of over 170 abstracts and manuscripts published by leading medical journals and scientific proceedings, including the Lancet, the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer, Anesthesiology, Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, and Anesthesia & Analgesia.
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