In 2008, Dr. Paul L. Herrling, Head of Corporate Research at Novartis and Chairman of the Board of the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD), proposed a plan to fund and manage the development treatments for the neglected diseases. His plan, called the Fund for R&D in Neglected Diseases (FRIND) (published in Global Forum Update on Research for Health Volume 5 [Global Health Update]) would provide funding and management of the preclinical development and clinical testing of treatments in the “pipeline” now managed by academic institutions, product development partnerships (PDPs), and companies. Funds would come from foundations and governments and would be granted to projects incrementally based on results. “Portfolio Management Teams” similar to those of pharmaceutical companies would allocate funds (and perhaps provide guidance) to projects. The net result would be better allocation of resources and decrease in the later stage attrition.
Practically, implementing FRIND faces the hurdle of persuading the entrenched interests to cede control and the donors to fund yet-another potentially huge bureaucracy. FRIND is a good idea and I wish Dr. Herrling success but also propose a more modest effort as a complement to FRIND. I propose to create a low-cost service for anyone or organization intending to develop a product for a global health disease (treatment, diagnostic, or vaccine) and needing to:
-establish proof of concept;
-generate data to justify continued funding; or
-create sufficient value in the product to attract a licensee.
Peloton Partnering, named after the group of bicycle racers who benefit from each other’s momentum, will be a web-based community of life sciences industry professionals interested in global health and wiling and able to contribute some time to advancing global health product development. The initial aim of the network will be to match those participants with product development needs to those with product development expertise (e.g., design and execution of POC experiments, ADME/tox, clinical trials) or with business development or sales and marketing expertise to collaborate on specific projects pro bono. In my experience, several hours of thoughtful and constructive advice can be invaluable to small organizations with limited resources.
Of course, there are wrinkles to work out, e.g.,
-confidentiality (there is none, just old-fashion trust);
-liability (none permitted);
-credibility of participants (reliance on peer-recommendation);
-performance metrics (mostly subjective);
-communication across distance and possibly cultures (video conferencing?); and
-donated time really isn’t free (maybe donors will get social responsibility credits for their organizations).
There are probably other snags I haven’t thought of. The Peloton Partnering effort would be grass-roots-based and low-budget and a complement to the top-down, big-budget approach of FRIND.
The success of volunteers coaching and mentoring businesses is well-established through the success of programs like SCORE (SCORE) which matches retired executives with US small businesses, university-based venture mentoring programs like MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service (MIT VMS) and regionally-based programs like Innovate St. Louis (Innovate STL). The Lemelson Foundation has an international entrepreneur mentoring program (Recognition and Mentoring Program; RAMP) and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance has a social venture mentoring program (Venture Well). I have also heard about, but have few details for, a proposed network for supporting companies of the “global south” that has a mentoring component (the Global Health Accelerator as described by Frew et al. in Health Affairs (“A Business Plan To Help The ‘Global South’ In Its Fight Against Neglected Diseases;” Health Affairs). There is also an on-line collaborative community of academic researchers for drug discovery for neglected disease, the Tropical Disease Initiative (TDI).
Peloton Partnering would be only a part of addressing the challenge of developing and delivering affordable global health products but it seems to me doable and worthwhile. I’ll be test-marketing the idea over the next months and will appreciate hearing any comments.