Fierce Biotech published the findings of a pair of Canadian researchers, Rahim Rezaie and Peter Singer, who studied 78 biotechs operating in India, Brazil, China and South Africa. Many are working on affordable drugs for neglected diseases in the developing world. But, will they continue to do so?
Ironically, making drugs for the developing world pushes them toward partnerships with companies with more marketing resources. These "superior" marketing organizations tend to be more focused on higher value drugs in Western markets that promise greater revenues. In many cases, this can cause the smaller biotechs to switch focus to these higher revenue applications.
Shantha Biotechnics has had a focus in low cost neglected areas. It was responsible for developing a hepatitis B vaccine that is sold for $0.25 versus the $15 standard in the market. The author's fear that Shantha could now switch its mission given its new owner - Sanofi-Aventis -- and trade global health for global wealth.
Rezaie and Singer call on goverments and private sector entities to institute some/all of the following tactics to help support continued focus on neglected and low cost therapies by these emerging market biotechs:
- More public-private partnerships
- Advance market commitments to purchase neglected therapies
- Prizes to develop neglected drugs - for example a global health prize to recognize excellent examples of Southern [hemisphere] innovation against diseases of the poor
- Patent pools to encourage IP sharing to develop neglected drugs by lowering costs due to patent barriers, and to speed informatin exchange/sharing
- Priority review vouchers to encourage drug development and promote faster market entry with concomitant faster revenues
- Orphan drug-like legislation similar to that of US
- New financing sources like R&D for Affordable Healthcare (Wellcome Trust & India Dept of Biotechnology), PATH program (Seattle), a US SBIR-type program for small enterprises
"Taking steps now will ensure that innovative capacity is tapped not only for the industrialized countries but also in the emerging economies so that health needs of the poor can be more fully addressed."
Posted by Bruce Lehr September 16th 2010.