BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), an advocacy group now based in San Francisco, issued a report last week, “Developing New Drugs and Vaccine for Neglected Diseases of the Poor: The Product Developer Landscape” (BVGH report). As I have noted in previous posts on BVGH, I’m enthusiastic about the organization’s mission- to encourage the biotech industry to address the unmet medical needs of the developing world- but have been disappointed in its execution. In one of my early posts, I praised a BVGH case studies report as a good start in highlighting partnering opportunities in global health (“Converting Inspiration to Investment” 9/27/09) and have appreciated its sponsorship of past Partnering for Global Health meetings, but more recently posited that the group’s involvement in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Re:Search database was not a productive use of its resources (“Window Dressing” 11/3/11). The aim of this recent report is to provide an overview of products being developed and is based on information in BVGH’s searchable database, the Global Health Primer (Primer), specifically, the Primer’s disease-specific Pipeline listings which identify products and developers (but, I note, is not business development-friendly because it lacks links to the listings’ sources and company contacts). My major beef with the report though, is that, while it provides several novel insights into the complicated world of biotech/pharma product development, it seems aimed at providing advice to government and foundation policy-makers, not to company executives or investors, and therefore is not helpful in building global health business.
To their credit, the report authors are thorough in covering many aspects of the topic. The report parameters include the full range of global health diseases (the “big three” of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria; the neglected diseases; and “other” diseases of poverty), drugs and vaccines in development (except for drugs to treat HIV), developers by country and type (academia, product development programs [PDPs], biotech and big pharma companies), and degree of collaboration as measured by number of partners in each project. This last parameter is an important one but hard to pin down, as the authors note, since they could not determine the quality of participation (e.g., funds, personnel) of each partner in a given project and which party was the originator so one cannot follow the money and figure out who is funding what and why. The report’s findings I thought notable are:
-Academic/research institutions are have some role (as originators, co-equal partners, contractors?) in almost half of the products under development;
-An institution’s primary partners is a PDP and secondarily is either a biotech company or “other” institution (not sure what the latter is);
-PDPs partner extensively, but mostly with academic institution (>50% of their partners) and less so with biotech (34%) and big pharma (20%) companies;
-Only a small percent of all biotech companies are involved in global health product development (3% or 104 out of 3853) (looks to me as if BVGH needs to do more business development);
-Biotech companies often go without partnering (about 40% of their projects) and don’t spend much, only about $600K each (the authors used data from the G Finder report [G Finder 2010]), but importantly focus their efforts on the preclinical stage, an important link between inventors and clinical testing; and
-For the big pharmaceutical companies, the most involved were GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and Sanofi, accounting for 66% of the 64 products in development and, not surprisingly, they participated as partners primarily in the clinical testing stages.
While the report’s authors acknowledged that their analysis of the financial and quality character of the partnerships (pages 38 and 40), they seem to miss the primary potential utility of a report of this type and the Global Health Primer. Rather than using these tools to “track” and report, BVGH should be generating information and tools to enable companies to build their global health business. It could point out what are the opportunities for companies to license from academic and research institutions and for PDPs to bring in biotech companies as partners rather than contractors. BVGH could report on which major pharma companies have experience in developing and commercializing which products, which developing world companies are seeking biotech partners, and most importantly, identifying whom to contact. Building relationships and developing business takes time, planning, research, analysis, and dedicated people, and, in the case of the global health business, lots of pushing. Now in its eighth year, it is time for BVGH to do less pontificating and more pushing.