Never mind the cakes and crocs: Dundee helps tackle neglected diseases

Big pharma companies don't always get the best of press for their various activities -- which is a little strange if we consider how quick we are to prescribe and take the benefit of the many medicines and formulations which they have produced.  "Medicines save, but patents kill" is a refrain this Kat has heard on more than one occasion.  However, through a media release from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) comes news that -- if they aren't all actually auditioning to play the role of altruistic philanthropists -- those selfsame companies are doing something really useful.  The release, with the unmemorably descriptive title "Leading Pharmaceutical Companies & Research Institutions Offer IP and Expertise for use in Treating Neglected Tropical Diseases as Part of WIPO Re:Search", reads like this:
"The World Intellectual Property Organization ..., in an unprecedented collaboration with leading pharmaceutical companies and BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), launched today WIPO Re:Search, a new consortium where public and private sector organizations share valuable intellectual property ... and expertise with the global health research community to promote development of new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics to treat neglected tropical diseases, malaria, and tuberculosis.

In WIPO Re:Search, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca, Eisai, GlaxoSmithKline, MSD1, Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi [not bad for a start -- the Kats think that this list will grow, given that membership is "open to all" (below] are collaborating with WIPO, BVGH, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and multiple non-profit research organizations. These include the 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) [Pretty impressive, says the IPKat. Why Dundee, wonders Merpel, who has always associated this charming Scottish town with the crocodiles, reared on the town's eponymous cake, for which it is so justly famous]. 
“WIPO Re:Search is a ground breaking example of how a multi-stakeholder coalition can put IP to work for social benefit,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “By joining WIPO Re:Search, companies and researchers commit to making selected [the IPKat suspects that this is a key word: by whom is the selection made, and under what criteria? The success or failure of the scheme may turn on those answers] intellectual property assets available under royalty-free licenses to qualified researchers anywhere in the world for research and development on neglected tropical diseases, malaria, and tuberculosis. This commitment should accelerate the development of medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics for these diseases.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), neglected tropical diseases today impair the lives of an estimated 1 billion people. The WHO [doesn't get much of a look-in, despite its health policy role, but it's not excluded completely because it] provides technical advice to WIPO on public health issues and research priorities, as appropriate. 
By providing a searchable, public [another key word: accessibility and transparency will help to create confidence in the system, enable potentially creative exchanges outside WIPO Re:Search by third parties -- or demonstrate why it is not working] database of available intellectual property assets, information, and resources, WIPO Re:Search facilitates new partnerships with organizations that conduct research on treatments for neglected tropical diseases, malaria, and tuberculosis. 
Membership in WIPO Re:Search as a user, provider, or supporter is open to all organizations that endorse, adhere to, and support the project’s Guiding Principles [thanks, WIPO -- you've posted them online for us all to read]. These Guiding Principles include the commitment that IP licensed via WIPO Re:Search will be licensed on a royalty-free basis for research and development on neglected tropical diseases in any country and on a royalty-free basis for sale of neglected tropical disease medicines in, or to, least developed countries. ...
The WIPO Re:Search database [Late Night Blogger Syndrome, or pure negligence? Neither the IPKat nor Merpel could find this online .. but Chris Torrero did: it's here at] includes a wide variety of contributions relevant to malaria, tuberculosis, and other neglected tropical diseases, including individual compounds and associated data, screening hits from compound libraries, and expertise and know-how in pharmaceutical research and development. In addition, WIPO Re:Search offers the opportunity for neglected tropical disease researchers to work directly with scientists at pharmaceutical companies to advance R&D on these diseases. As WIPO Re:Search moves forward, offerings from current partners will continue to grow and new providers are expected to join to add to the wealth of information, compounds, and services available [Is there an official requirement to license added information and IP, or merely to report it? Clarification would be appreciated]. ..."
The IPKat is pleased to see this initiative, since it has the potential to benefit literally millions of people.  Merpel wonders why it wasn't done ahead of all the initiatives on IP and the environment which, given the greater complexity of the issues at stake and the conflict of financial interests, must have been far harder to achieve.
Never mind the cakes and crocs: Dundee helps tackle neglected diseases Never mind the cakes and crocs: Dundee helps tackle neglected diseases Reviewed by Jeremy on Wednesday, October 26, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. With regard to the question "[the IPKat suspects that this is a key word: by whom is the selection made, and under what criteria? The success or failure of the scheme may turn on those answers]"

    AstraZeneca at least has made available its entire patent portfolio.

  2. Experimental use exemptions make most of this irrelevant as the R&D can be conducted without a licence. A licence for any potential product would likely be available if and when positive clinical trial results are obtained. As most of this research will be conducted by non-profit making institutions (charities and universities) there will be no up-front FTO concerns from investors as would be expected for a business (for those that bother to be concerned about FTO in the first place).

    The market for such products is likely to be in areas where few patent portfolios provide coverage, usually because only key IP will cover such territories. Most IP held by pharma is not in this category. Manufacture of any medicine will also likely occur in India or China.

    Most pharma IP will not provde much useful information for treating neglected diseases and any patent coverage will likely be accidental overlap.

    With most pharma companies abandoning their research and slashing their IP portfolios, most would be grateful for a product to appear that would require a licence, alnbeit royalty free, before they abandon the patent.

    Aside from these and other reasons, this is a great gesture by these companies, whom I fully support generally, but when it comes to such PR, I am not impressed.

    A real gesture for advancing medical treatments (not just malaria is for the abandoned R&D piplelines to be opened up. There is truly real value in those projects that have been dropped for non-scientific reasons.


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