More on the Business of Global Health (No. 4)

Here are a few items I spotted over the past two weeks.

FierceDiagnostics reported on the clinical test of a concept for a new diagnostic to identify patients with arteminesin-resistant malaria (Fierce article). Almost all the patients studied (about 1200) had parasites with a unique gene, meaning that the quick test could be used to improve treatment (a longer course of arteminesin or combinations of drugs) or to monitor a population being treated prophylaticly (so-called mass drug administration or MDA). MDA is a controversial approach since it may generate stronger resistance (WHO 2011 report on MDA for malaria).

The ever-inventive research group at Harvard University led by George Whitesides is working on a new approach to portable diagnostics using electrochemical analyses. As reported in FierceMedicalDevices (another Fierce article) and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Nemiroski et al. 2014), the team demonstrated the device’s function using four tests: the detection of blood glucose, trace heavy metals in water for environmental monitoring, sodium in urine for clinical analysis, and a malarial antigen in blood. Fierce also noted that the team wrote software that allows data transmission via basic, not-smart, cell phones and that the whole system is being tested in India. No word on whether Prof. Whitesides, on whose technology the company, Diagnostics for All, is based, has plans for commercial development.

The product development organization, the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, and Novartis announced the licensing of all the assets of Novartis’s TB therapeutic development program to the Alliance (TB Alliance press release). The assets included a class of promising drug candidates called indolcarboxamides that the Alliance stated it will continue to study. Not addressed in the press release was why Novartis was giving up on TB therapeutics and whether the Alliance tried to get some cash from Novartis to support its work.

One may hope that the Ebola crisis in western Africa may increase the public’s awareness of the lack of foresight and investment by our global society in the development of treatments for neglected diseases, medical infrastructure in Africa, and international health organizations’ ability to response to infectious disease epidemics. And maybe awareness will result in change. A blog post by Julia Fan Li (Li blog post) and a follow up table of the Ebola product pipeline (Bioentrepreneur table) in Nature’s Bioentrepreneur provided concise and cogent statements of the problem and status of developing treatments for Ebola.

Scott Kirsner, the innovation economy correspondent for the Boston Globe, wrote a column recently entitled the “Losing strategy in Mass. on education and health care” (Kirsner column). His point is a valid one: “Where are the voices talking about expanding access to education and health care, and driving costs down? In Massachusetts, they’re scarce. And that’s a losing strategy.” It is a losing strategy for the long-term health of our local economy which is widely viewed as an exemplar for the future of the US economy. As some readers may remember, I have tooted my horn on the potential for profit in providing low-cost, affordable health care (e.g., my post “Missing the Boat”) and I thank Mr. Kirsner for adding his push.

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