Event Reports

Developing Drugs for Developing Countries

Leo Chen - Monday, March 05, 2012

As part of SBN’s Exploring Biotech Series and UBC’s Celebrate Research Week, Developing Drugs for Developing Countries featured four amazing speakers who walked audience members through the process of moving biotechnology advances in global health, specifically, in the area of neglected diseases. The neglected diseases are a group of tropical infections endemic in low-income populations in developing regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Over the past few years, the Neglected Global Diseases Initiative at UBC (NGDI) and Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) have joined forces to make accessible much-needed drugs for neglected global diseases to patients in developing countries, under the Global Access Principles.

A charismatic speaker, Prof. Kishor Wasan, of the UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, walked the audience through the trials and tribulations of starting with an exciting scientific discovery to becoming involved with UAEM and founding the NGDI group to partnering with local Biotech to develop interventions for neglected global diseases and ensure their delivery to those in need.

Kish has developed a new formulation of a drug, Amphotericin B, for the treatment of fungal infections such as visceral leishmaniasis, which affects approximately 200 million people annually in developing countries and kills about half a million in India alone. A commercialization agreement signed with iCo Therapeutics Inc. of Vancouver, B.C., ensures the formula is developed consistent with global access principles. To this end, iCo Therapeutics will ensure availability and accessibility of this formulation to countries in the developing world to treat Leishmaniasis through subsidized pricing.

The second speaker was Mr. Andrew Rae from iCo Therapeutics. Andrew is a serial entrepreneur already on his third company. Andrew lamented about the reluctance of academic researchers to attempt to commercialize such research because they assume that biotech and pharma are only interested in profits, and would not invest in neglected diseases in the developing world. He believes that perception is false and gives examples of companies such as Gilead, Glaxo Smith Kline, as well as his own company, iCo Therapeutics that have set a growing trend in the biotech industry: to forgo profit in the interest of making drug accessible to those in need in developing countries. He draws his inspiration from his own father, a doctor who often traveled to developing latin American countries to treat poor patients.

NGDI and iCo’s tireless efforts have not been fruitless. They have managed to garner the attention of philanthropists, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who have donated $7 million dollars towards the NGDI to make this treatment accessible to patients in the developing world. Andrew believes that philanthropic foundations, such as the Gates Foundation, will pave the way for more research dollars being poured into neglected global diseases.

Next, Dr. Sonia Ziesche from Gowlings, gave a brief but comprehensive overview of the exciting world of patents and intellectual property. She also touched on the recent collaborative effort of some of the world's biggest drugmakers with the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization to set up a consortium to share patent information with researchers looking to develop treatments for neglected diseases.

Concluding the session was Ms. Carol Leacy, director of Entrepreneurship at UBC. Herself an entrepreneur at heart, Carol explained the services available to UBC students and alumni through the Entrepreneurship at UBC program. Such programs are essential to providing resources, infrastructure, and mentorship to budding entrepreneurs to solve the world’s social and economic problems, including accessible and affordable treatments for neglected global diseases.

The pursuit of developing therapeutics for treating neglected global diseases is nothing new. But it is exciting to see many passionate researchers and entrepreneurs working hard to make these drugs accessible to those in need in the developing world.

[ SBN would not be possible without its generous sponsors ]