August has the reputation for being a slow month but with many of us squeezing in a vacation or in back-to-school mode it is more a matter of relativity. Here in Beantown, the rental vans and cars with out-of-state plates clog the streets near the colleges, but at least the SUVs ferrying kids three blocks to the neighborhood schools aren’t out yet. Since it’s likely no one is checking my blog right now, I’m taking a break by following up on some earlier postings, like hauling my boat onto the beach for repair.
In one of my first posting last September, I wrote about BIO Ventures for Global Health, the organization funded largely by the BIO, an industry trade group, and the Gates Foundation, which has the goal of “working to engage companies to drive partnerships and invest in global health initiatives to save lives in poor countries” (BVGH). In that posting, I advised BVGH to focus on providing companies of all sizes rationales and resources for developing new or adapting existing products to non-US and EU (ROW) markets and offered four specific actions. It looks to me they headed in another direction. Their mission statement is weak and uninformative, they redesigned their website to emphasize individual donations and added pictures of crying or smiling kids (reminding me of the character on the Simpsons who is always saying “what about the children?”), their resource list though good has not been updated in two years, there’s been no progress on their “Global Health Connect” plan other than hiring a VP for it, and they moved their staff from a good place to influence the US government policy to a sunnier clime, San Francisco (BVGH PR). While I applaud BVGH for taking a lead role in administering the IP pool (announced in January 2010) started by GlaxoSmithKline (my posting of October 5, 2009) (although I haven’t tried to use it so can’t speak to its utility), I think they are struggling to find their way.
In December 2009, I wrote about a plan first proposed in 2008 to fund and manage the development of treatments for neglected diseases called the Fund for R&D in Neglected Diseases (FRIND) (Global Health Update) and offered a much lower cost, less bureaucratic complementary plan called Peloton Partnering. Peloton will be (if I get my act together) a web-based community of life sciences industry professionals who will contribute their product development expertise (e.g., design and execution of POC experiments, ADME/tox, clinical trials, business development) to any enterprise developing global health products, a way for facilitating “know-how” transfer in development and commercialization. FRIND is in its third year of planning (Novartis PR) and given the many big budget programs competing for the few billions of dollars in grant and government aid, I don’t think it will get out of the planning stage. Although my funding is all from my own pocket and I have made some progress in implementing Peloton (securing domain names and on-line submission space), I also have no launch date in sight. Clearly though, the idea of utilizing biotech/pharma expertise better in global health is an idea worth pursuing. As I have noted, BVGH is working on its Global Health Connect, and it is part of Frew et al.’s “Business Plan to Help the Global South” (Health Affairs, 2009; 28:1760–73). And in 2005, the “non-profit pharmaceutical company,” Institute for OneWorld Health, received a $1 million grant to foster such collaborations but apparently with no result (IOWH PR).
In March 2010, I wrote about the idea of applying the techniques of “accelerated proof-of-concept” testing to lower the cost of and speed the development of treatments for neglected diseases. This theme is one of several that make up the idea of open source innovation which is the idea of collaborators in not-for and for-profits sharing data and resources, including intellectual property, at no cost, although who has the leadership of a project and sponsors the commercialization of the results is not clear. I noted one leader in providing web-based aggregation and analysis tools for medicinal chemistry (a key step in finding a drug) was Collaborative Drug Discovery (CDD), a California-based for-profit. In May, CDD, GSK, the European Bioinformatics Institute, and the U.S. National Library of Medicine announced that they were working to together to connect structure-activity data on drug candidates for treating malaria generated by GSK with published information and make it analyzable with CDD’s tools (CDD PR). Going forward, researchers, in addition to using the data, will be able to contribute their data to a public archive for use by others at no cost (except to the researchers’ tech transfer offices which will need to understand what is being released in the event they plan to claim IP rights). Rightly described as a “new era in pubic-private collaboration in drug research,” the resource (which needs a snappy name) will be a model in open source drug discovery and, if successful, will multiple the number of lead compounds for malaria, with the next question being who/how will the results be further developed. Another note for those interested in the resource and CDD’s tools, CDD is sponsoring its fourth annual Collaborative Drug Discovery meeting at UCSF on October 21. The meeting has a great line up of speakers and no charge (Registration).
In May of this year, I wrote about my concern that the not-for-profit approach to commercializing (that, is actually getting products distributed and used) had few examples of success. Further I noted that the how, who, and what of global health product commercialization is under development and, therefore, is ripe for innovation of its own, that is, from the for-profit view point, new business models are needed. Last week, one of our local on-line and print organs of high-tech news, Mass High Tech, had articles on the challenges of finding those models. In one, some nay-sayers and maybe-sayers are quoted and the founder of Seeding Labs, which recycles lab equipment to developing countries, is interviewed (“Life Science Firms”). The second is an interview with the founder and the CEO of Diagnostics for All, a grant-funded diagnostics company with plans to parlay its IP into low-cost products for all markets (“Whitesides and Ryan”) (Potential COI notice: I am an unpaid adviser to DFA). I thought both articles and the accompanying editorial could have benefited from better preparation by the reporters who seemed to assume that the idea of creating affordable products for under-served markets was untenable (it’s not). Anyway, hats off to MHT for covering this topic and I hope they continue to do so.
Back to my scraping.