Partnering to Tackle Tropical Diseases
By: Michael Klein, MD | December 23, 2014
Conducting research into neglected tropical diseases can be a tough sell for biopharmaceutical companies. The investments are significant, the risks are great, and the payoff is primarily philanthropic. But the need is clear. One billion people are affected by neglected tropical diseases worldwide, and each year neglected diseases disproportionately kill or disable millions of poor people primarily in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.
For many biopharma companies, addressing these deadly diseases has become a core goal of their philanthropic efforts. But even with unwavering executive commitment, the many obstacles these companies face managing research in the most remote parts of the world can feel insurmountable.
Though it doesn’t have to be.
The key to approaching tropical disease research is that no one government, pharmaceutical company or non-profit organization can do it alone. It takes a synergistic network of groups, each contributing their own knowledge, technology, manpower and expertise to create a multi-dimensional solution that can first create treatments, then get them to the people in need.
Many large biopharma companies are starting to work more collaboratively on these research projects, partnering with their peers, global CROs, and government and non-profit agencies to jointly address these projects and deliver them more effectively.
This trend began in part as a result of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Neglected Tropical Diseases. In 2011, the group adopted a roadmap for the control, elimination and eradication of neglected tropical diseases.
A few months later, in 2012, some of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and Novartis, launched a collaboration with WHO and several non-profit groups, specifically to address this challenge by donating and developing drugs aimed at controlling or eradicating ten neglected tropical diseases by 2020. Diseases such as Guinea worm disease, leprosy and sleeping sickness are being targeted, along with lymphatic filariasis, river blindness, schistosomiasis and Chagas disease.
That same year, 132 R&D programs were launched to address neglected diseases, with the vast majority conducted in partnerships with key pharma players, according to a report from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations. In stark contrast, just 7 years ago the industry association could find only about 30 R&D programs in progress for neglected diseases.
“Taking a holistic approach involving partnerships is key to tackling neglected diseases and reducing the burden on people,” the report says.
Other collaborations are being launched throughout the industry, from public-private partnerships among drug developers, to relationships between manufacturers and suppliers who can deliver the drugs. Governments and government agencies are also getting involved.
It’s important to note that none of these individual partnerships can create a solution by themselves. It requires a network of solutions that simultaneously create treatments, while developing the infrastructure and education to ensure they get in the hands of the people who need them. Only by bringing everyone in the supply chain to the table — from the drug developers and clinical staff, to the infrastructure people, supply chain members and educators — can you can establish a common goal then build a plan to achieve it.
Every stakeholder has an important contribution to make. When biopharma companies partner strategically with organizations that have the knowledge, infrastructure and feet on the ground to address these challenges it reduces their risks and increases the likelihood that these investments will be put to best use.