Checking the Pool’s Temperature

As my regular readers know, I have written several times on the concept of open source innovation for the discover and development of the products for neglected diseases (e.g., posts of 10/5/09, 8/5/10, 3/10/11) and about one of the more important efforts to make this concept reality:  the Pool for Open Innovation Against Neglected Tropical Diseases run by BIO Ventures for Global Health (NTD Pool).  While the Pool is a good step forward in making potentially useful compound-specific intellectual property (IP) available (and at no cost) to open-innovators, I have three major concerns:

  • the licensing terms lack incentives, that is, they are non-exclusive (good for protection against an infringement suit but useless for raising money), limited to the least developing countries (not the low- and middle-income countries with growing middle classes to provide revenue), and will not be granted if the IP contributor is using, or considering using, the IP for itself;
  • the licenses do not come with access to data and know-how needed to make the IP useful; and
  • there is no provision of samples of the compound(s) of interest and related family members to verify the data presented in the IP.

Since I had not seen any mention of the Pool and its activities recently, I visited the site to see what progress was being made.  The licensing polices have not changed and as far as I can tell and the Pool is not being utilized or its use is being promoted.  One important aspect of the open source innovation concept is the building of a community of users who share their perspectives and results and accelerate discovery.  Examples of drug discovery community-building efforts are those run by Collaborative Drug Discovery (for medicinal chemistry at CDD Public) and OpenClinica (for clinical trials at OpenClinica Community).  I did not see a similar effort at the Pool site and, while one can submit a request to be involved as a user or contributor (Pool Get Involved), my experience is that there’s no one at the other end.  I also noted that the last press release was in August 2010 which announced that Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) has joined the Pool as a contributor, not a user (Pool press release), and, as I asked in a previous posting, why not, if the Pool is such a valuable treasure trove of potential anti-malaria drugs?  Of course the MMV knows, as do the other product development programs (grant-supported, neglected-disease-specific, drug discovery and development organizations), that the IP in the Pool is just the starting point.

I did a quick search to find any users of the Pool and what they may be doing and did find an article on one group that illustrates that searching the Pool is just the start to finding a testable compound.  A Genetic Engineering News article of last November describes a collaboration between iThemba Pharmaceuticals, a South African biotech (iThemba), and Emory University’s Institute of Drug Discovery (EIDD), headed by the famous/infamous Dennis Liotta (see 3TC patent dispute), to search the Pool for possible polymerase inhibitors, the Institute’s area of expertise (GEN article).  They found six groups of interesting compounds, met with GSK scientists to get an update of where GSK was in their development, and more recently, signed an agreement to talk with GSK scientists more (EIDD press release).  Not at the licensing and technology transfer step yet.

Granted it has only been a bit more than two years since the Pool was initiated by GSK’s donation of malaria-drug IP and a year since BVGH took over its administration, but I think there should be more activity by now.  My ideas:  figure out why more PDPs and biotechs are not using the Pool, run workshops to show how user-friendly it is, and advertise its use and success.  Apparently BVGH has realized that they need to a better job of promoting the Pool and is hiring a Senior Director, Commercialization and Alliance Management (BVGH Careers); however, this fortunate person will also have a number of other responsibilities.  I look forward to hearing about the Pool’s utilization in the future.

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