Fueling this development is a group of non-profit organizations with expertise in drug development and knowledge of third-world nations and diseases. They are encouraging public-private partnerships (PPPs)—a new drug-research model that promises to reduce costs for industry and produce affordable treatments that meet local needs.
New LandscapePPPs replace the more recent "push-pull" strategy for boosting industry research on treatments that have little market value in industrial states. US and European governments have offered tax breaks and patent extensions to "push" R&D, as well as advance-purchase commitments (APCs) to "pull" new products to market. But some analysts consider these only minimally effective tactics, which yield treatments with low value for patients in poor countries. Some products still are too expensive for developing nations, and have dosing and distribution requirements that undermine access and compliance.
While governmental and international agencies continue to back the push-pull drug-development model, these new collaborative arrangements have already altered the R&D landscape for drugs that treat neglected diseases, according to an important study by researchers at the London School of Economics, headed by Dr. Mary Moran, now based in Australia. This September 2005 report published by the Wellcome Trust shows how in the last five years PPPs have spurred R&D to seek new treatments for malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, dengue fever, and other diseases of the developing world. The report can be obtained from firstname.lastname@example.org
From 2000 to 2004, partnerships such as Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), the TB Alliance, Drugs for Neglected Diseases (DNDi), and the Institute for One World Health (iOWH), launched 63 new research projects that should translate into nine or 10 new drugs by 2010. And the funding has come primarily from Gates, the Rockefeller Foundation, and other private donors, as opposed to national health programs.
For a growing number of niche biotech companies, PPPs provide prime opportunities to expand research programs, similar to developing orphan drugs for small patient populations at home. R&D partnerships enable these firms to parlay expertise in genomics, bioinformatics, and other innovative technologies into new development programs, as well as to gain opportunities to license intellectual property to larger partners. And both pharma and biotech companies anticipate that these no-profit R&D efforts eventually may yield spin-off products with commercial value in the West.