Global health initiative aims to use IP to combat neglected diseases

A new programme has been set up with the aim of encouraging pharmaceutical companies and the global health research community to share intellectual property (IP) assets and expertise.  The programme is being promoted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and aims to foster the development of drug treatments, vaccines and diagnostics for malaria, TB and neglected tropical diseases.

The new initiative, called WIPO Re:Search, will allow qualified researchers access to IP assets owned by selected pharmaceutical companies and research organisations.  The assets will be made available under royalty-free licences to qualified researchers anywhere in the world in a drive to develop more effective treatments.  The assets are publicly available for view here and they include patents, lead compounds and associated data, unpublished results, regulatory data and dossiers, screening technologies and expertise/know-how in pharmaceutical research and development.  The programme, which is administered by the non-profit organisation Bio-Ventures for Global Health (BVGH) will also offer the opportunity for researchers to work directly with scientists at pharmaceutical companies to advance R&D on these diseases.

The initiative includes the establishment of a “Partnership Hub” to be run by BVGH.  This hub will foster collaboration between the organisations while BVGH will provide licensing support to the collaborators.  As WIPO Re:Search moves forward, it is hoped that offerings from current partners will continue to grow while new providers join and contribute further to the information, compounds, and services available.

WIPO Re:Search is open to all organisations that agree to allow a selection of their IP relating to neglected tropical diseases to be licensed on a royalty-free basis for research and development in any country.  The participating organisations must also offer medicines covered by the shared IP assets to be sold on a royalty-free basis in, or to, least developed countries. 

The impressive list of industry backers means that there exists real potential to open up the research vaults of some of the big players to allow access to research institutions and NGOs keen to develop new treatments.  Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca, Eisai, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi have signed up to collaborate with a number of research organisations including the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), California Institute of Technology, the Center for World Health & Medicine, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Medicines for Malaria Venture, PATH, the South African Medical Research Council, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Dundee (UK).  It is hoped that the initiative will facilitate new partnerships to develop treatments for the diseases that are often prevalent in very poor populations. 

The development of treatments for malaria and tuberculosis is mentioned specifically but other diseases classified as “neglected tropical diseases” are also to be targeted.  This term encompasses less well known tropical diseases and conditions including Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis), cysticercosis, dengue/dengue hemorrhagic fever, dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease), echinococcosis, endemic treponematoses (yaws), foodborne trematode infections (clonorchiasis, opistorchiasis, fascioliasis, and paragonimiasis), human African trypanosomiasis (African sleeping sickness), leishmaniasis, leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, malaria, onchocerciasis, rabies, schistosomiasis, soil transmitted helminths, trachoma, tuberculosis, podoconiosis, and snakebite.

The provision of free medicines to poorer populations appears to be a growing facet of pharma company behaviour and the WIPO Re:Search programme fits well with these strategies as well as potentially providing a new perspective on shelved research programmes.