BIO 2008: Doing Well by Doing Good: Can Venture Capital Improve Drug Accessibility?

On Tuesday afternoon, a panel discussed ways in which corporations might be able to stimulate the development of more therapies for serious diseases----the world’s top killers such as malaria. The topic is one that I’m very interested, but, unfortunately, I arrived late and missed much of the discussion. Genzyme has been doing some pioneering work with orphan drugs and its Gaucher’s disease treatment, Cerezyme, has been profitable. James Geraghty, SVP of International Development with Genzyme presumably discussed the company’s Humanitarian Assistance for Neglected Diseases Initiative, and efforts such as the one underway with the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil. Una Ryan, President and CEO of Avant Immunotherapeutics, Ltd., also participated in the discussion. Her company has been developing drugs for neglected diseases, including cholera and typhoid, as well as an HIV vaccine, in efforts funded by the Gates Foundation. Elizabeth Bailey of Commons Capital works with venture capitalists to obtain funding for early stage drug development.  Currently, Commons is working with Gates, Rockefeller and  Lloyd's Foundations.to fund research into therapies for neglected diseases.  At the conference she discussed financing models(some of which were touched on in a 2005 paper, which came out of a workshop on this subject). Financing is most feasible in early stages, she said. Dr. Ryan  agreed, and emphasized the importance of venture capital in funding these efforts. Big pharma or Big Bio is too locked into production schedules and unlikely to recoup investments, so, despite its worthiness, it’s a hard sell to management. Profitability is critical. Vaccines are excellent candidates for attracting venture capital for global development, Dr. Ryan said. During the Q&A, someone in the audience spoke of the need to develop an infrastructure that would permit scientists in developing nations to develop innovator products, rather than “copy cat” products. Presumably, they won’t face the 10-year, billion-dollar hurdle that innovators face here. AMS
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