News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Tuesday March 26th 2019

Tropical disease treatment boosted as SA joins patent pool

Fadela Slamdien

That multinational drug companies maximise profits by focusing on developing remedies for ailments afflicting the relatively wealthy, at the expense of developing drugs for tropical diseases afflicting those in the developing world unable to pay for such treatments, is an open secret.

But the possibility of developing treatments for 16 diseases affecting the developing world – such as Tuberculosis (TB), Cholera, Sleeping Sickness and Malaria – has been given a boost by South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) joining the world’s first patent pool for neglected disease, developed by drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

TIA health portfolio manager, Dr. Carl Montague, said access to the pool would allow South African pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to access intellectual property stemming from hundreds of millions of dollars worth of GSK research.

This could lead to development of drugs to treat diseases affecting millions of Africans.

GSK launched the patent pool in February last year, specifically to accelerate research into and developing drugs for 16 of the worlds most neglected diseases, found mainly in Africa.

The pool, known as the Pool for Open Innovation against Tropical Diseases, is administered by Bio Ventures for Global Health, a non-profit organisation aimed at advancing the development of drugs and vaccines to address infectious diseases in the developing world.

“Many of these diseases have suffered from a lack of new research for half a century – GSK hopes that by creating the pool it will serve as a catalyst for others to join, thereby creating a wealth of knowledge that scientists from around the world can tap into,” said Stephen Rea, GSK’s Director of Media, Global Public Health and Responsibility News.

So far, GSK has made about 800 of its patents and patent applications freely available. A number of international companies and organisations have also joined the pool. These include Massachusetts Institute of Technology from the USA, and American pharmaceutical company, Ainylam Pharmaceuticals.

Montague said the TIA aimed to look at ways which South African companies could use the patent pool, acting as facilitators rather than drug developers.

“We will help companies solidify their ideas if they need it,” he said.

iThemba Pharmacueticals is one of those companies the TIA will be working with and whose drug programme it intends to facilitate in order to develop medicines, specifically to treat TB.

iThemba Chief Scientific Officer Chris Edlin said although South Africa had the resources and scientific expertise to make use of the pool, not much research had been done on neglected diseases due to lack of opportunity.

Edlin said as a result, no new drugs for TB and other neglected diseases had been developed, with the last anti-TB drug having being developed over forty years ago.

“Their first priority is profit,” said Montague. “They concentrate their resources on diseases where they can make the most money, such as diabetes and cancer, which are (prevalent) in the western world.”

He said although GSK would not make a profit from the patent pool, it would nonetheless help them save money.

“The idea would be for them to make use of the knowledge generated without them using it themselves. They would not be involved in the expensive part of the drug development.”

But according to Rea, GSK currently has a research facility in Spain for neglected tropical diseases, focusing mainly on TB, Malaria and HIV and also recently launched a “large scale final phase clinical trial for its candidate malaria vaccine across seven countries in Africa”.

The patent pool, however, does not include anti-retrovirals, said Rea.

“HIV presents a huge public health challenge – but it is not a neglected tropical disease,” he said. – West Cape News

Tropical disease treatment gets a boost as SA joins patent pool
Tags: ainylam, cholera, glaxosmithkline, ithemba, malaria

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