R&D: Learning to Share - Pharmaceutical Executive

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R&D: Learning to Share

Pharmaceutical Executive


So it really does seem that the future of R&D can be one of collaboration at certain points.

Oh, yes. Novartis was one of the companies that started the SNP Consortium of cross-company collaboration, a joint venture between Wellcome Trust, the Sanger Institute, the Whitehead Institute, the Genome Sequencing Center, Cold Spring Harbor, Stanford University, and 10 major pharmaceutical companies. It was the first time that several pharma companies pooled their resources to make this map as fast as possible, and they made it available both to academics and to themselves to get more predictable drug discovery. The initiative we just talked about in safety goes along the same lines.

It's interesting that in the neglected disease area, collaboration and partnership is standard, with a whole range of public–private partnerships. But that idea seems to be translating into the for-profit world.

Well, there are different kinds of collaborations. For the SNP safety databases we said, "If each of us does it alone, we will not have the answer because we don't have enough data to compare. And it'll be so expensive, we'll ruin ourselves. So let's do it together."

Now, the neglected disease area has another aspect that makes collaboration easier: It's mostly not-for-profit. So there is no commercial competition. As you know, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative and Medicines for Malaria Venture all have the not-for-profit concept as part of their business model. They are not allowed to make money with these drugs that they develop. The commercial competition that is traditional between pharma companies does not appear.

Since the money that pharmaceutical companies allocate to neglected diseases will not generate returns, by definition it has to be limited because our shareholders want to have returns. They accept that we invest some part of our resources into noncommercial neglected diseases, but there are limits. So it is even more important that the resources that we can allocate to these big diseases of the developing world are used in the most efficient way possible. Therefore, we want to avoid redundancies and share as much information as possible.

It's not only the pharma companies that are not investing in neglected diseases, unfortunately. Agencies like the National Institutes of Health or Medical Reserve Corps are also not funding research into these diseases because they feel that it's public money that needs to be applied first to cancers and Alzheimer's and so on, and not to diseases that are primarily occurring in other countries. So even the basic science at universities is neglected.

The community of companies that are now reinvesting in these neglected diseases have to build on a very thin, basic science base. Again, it is extremely important that we use the resources that we have as efficiently as possible and try to coordinate and not all work on the same idea or the same thing.

There are difficulties with that, but I'm currently discussing with other colleagues in the industry a concept for how we could do it, at least to a limited extent, without getting into antitrust problems and so on.

Where can we learn more about that?

It's not yet public because I'm still learning, and it's not finished. Actually, I've worked for two years on this project, and it has been very difficult to convince people. But we have a number of pharmaceutical companies interested, and we might have the concept sufficiently advanced so that we can at least discuss it in public soon.

Additional contribution by Alissa Piccione


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