WIPO Re:Search Bridges Public, Private Sectors For Neglected Disease Research
By Rachel Marusak Hermann for Intellectual Property Watch on 27/10/2011 @ 8:57 pm
“Neglected tropical diseases are century-old diseases and today we see new hope,” Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organisation, told a crowd at yesterday’s launch of a new public-private collaboration to develop medicines for the poorest countries. The project, called Re:Search, was launched at the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Following a press conference at the United Nations in Geneva, a panel of ambassadors, leaders of international institutions, major pharmaceutical companies, and research institutions presented the new consortium at WIPO. WIPO Re:Search (www.wiporesearch.org ) is a collaboration of public and private sector stakeholders for the research and development of medicines to treat neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), malaria, and tuberculosis.
Neglected diseases are those that predominately afflict poor populations for which the economic incentive is lacking for research and development of the needed treatments.
Consortium providers, such as AstraZeneca and the South Africa Medical Research Council, have made available intellectual property to NTD, malaria, and tuberculosis researchers through the WIPO Re:Search database. Researchers can search there for compounds, unpublished scientific results, patents and patent rights, screening and platform technologies, and regulatory dossiers. Although the information platform is freely accessible to the public, licences to any of the products born out of this initiative will be royalty-free only in 49 least developed countries (LDCs). Licences to other developing countries will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. NTDs are said to occur in 149 nations .
The NTD R&D Evolution
IP sharing for NTD research is not new. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) launched the Pool for Open Innovation for Neglected Tropical Diseases (POINT) in 2009 with the participation of Alnylam. Administered by BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), who is also the WIPO Re:Search administrator, the GSK initiative is sort of the genesis of the consortium.
“We see WIPO Re:Search as an evolution of the Pool for Open Innovation. We believe that the creation of POINT helped to stimulate constructive discussions among groups, including other pharmaceutical companies, about IP and how we might be able to really substantially open up this opportunity to help stimulate R&D into NTDs,” a GSK spokesperson said in a telephone interview.
Although WIPO Director General Francis Gurry didn’t talk about the origins of WIPO Re:Search during the launch, he did point out its differences from other initiatives. The first difference that he highlighted was the broadness and the diverse nature of the coalition’s scope. From Novartis and Pfizer to the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), participants are from across the globe, representing many different sectors. Gurry also highlighted that the information available in the database goes well beyond patents and that WIPO: Re:Search also accompanies researchers in their work through its “Partnership Hub.” Administered by BVGH, the Partnership Hub is intended to connect users to the right provider.
WIPO Re:Search is a sort of electronic catalogue of all of the information that providers have made available to the consortium. Scientists can run a structured search or enter key words with results displaying by providers, diseases and data types. Then, the NTD, malaria or tuberculosis researcher clicks on “Partnership Hub” to enter a request for more information. BVGH fields the requests and matches the user to the provider. Once the match is made, the user and the provider will together develop their research collaboration.
For the eight participating pharmaceutical companies, the platform provides new opportunities in R&D. During the WIPO panel session, Sanofi’s Vice President for Access to Medicines, Robert Sebbag, said, “I see the interest of the pharmaceutical industry. Because we know that growth will come from the South and we have to be prepared.”
“We have to think about the business model, we have to think about research, we have to think about innovation,” he said. “It’s also in our interest.” Sebbag also mentioned the importance corporate social responsibility and embraced the positive effect such engagements can have when it comes to investor decision-making.
Finding the Incentive to Innovate
Until now, market forces have not driven innovation in the area of these diseases. NTDs, malaria, and tuberculosis affect the lives of a billion people across the globe, largely plaguing the world’s most impoverished living in remote urban areas. Thus far the lack of economic incentive has not attracted the investment needed to develop the medicines for the diseases afflicting these populations.
Chan emphasised the urgent need for new medicines and diagnostics for NTDs, malaria and tuberculosis, saying that drugs to treat these diseases are lacking and those that are available are often archaic and even toxic. Beyond that, she also warned of the dangers of inaction. “Slight mutations that allow a microorganism to resist the full killing power of a medicine are an evolutionary advantage that greatly expedites the development of drug resistance,” she said.
She also said that governments alone cannot provide all of the solutions to global health and the world had to look to public-private partnerships. In answer as to why the WHO has not signed on to the coalition, she gave an off-the-cuff reply: “I cannot be in bed with the industry…. My member states have strong views on certain things that the organisation can join and other things we cannot join.” But she said that this distance will allow her fully fulfil her role as the initiative’s “cheerleader” and “gatekeeper.”
A First Step
Several key organisations raised concerns over limitations in the scope of the project.
The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) joined WIPO Re:Search but not without a clear caveat: “WIPO and other important players engaged in global health should take a step further in terms of access, especially by including not only the least developed countries but all neglected disease-endemic countries,” DNDi Executive Director Bernard Pécoul said in a press release.
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) issued a statement stating that many of the patients most in need will be missed by the Re:Search project. “Many patients affected by NTDs are not in least developed countries. In the Americas, for example, Chagas disease affects 21 countries, but the Consortium will only provide royalty-free licences for Haiti, where Chagas is not endemic.”
Despite such concerns, the mood at the launch was mostly hopeful. Kenya Ambassador Tom Mboya Okeyo praised the initiative, saying at the panel session: “A journey of a 1000 miles starts with a first step.”
Article printed from Intellectual Property Watch: http://www.ip-watch.org
URL to article: http://www.ip-watch.org/2011/10/27/wipo-research-bridges-public-private-sectors-for-neglected-disease-research/
URLs in this post:
 www.wiporesearch.org: http://www.wipo.int/research/en/
 occur in 149 nations: http://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/2010report/2011_update_report/en/index.html
 World Health Assembly: Agreement Reached On Neglected Disease R&D Process, But No Convention: http://www.ip-watch.org/2012/05/25/world-health-assembly-agreement-reached-on-neglected-disease-rd-process-but-no-convention/