By: Joe Bradley, WIPO
Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), Malaria, and Tuberculosis (TB) blight the lives of more than 1.5 billion people worldwide. NTDs are largely a symptom of poverty and vulnerability; those most affected are the world’s poorest populations, often living in remote rural areas, urban slums and shantytowns, or in conflict zones. In addition to their negative impact on health, NTDs contribute to perpetuate a cycle of poverty and stigma that leaves people unable to work, go to school or participate in community life.
These diseases are termed “neglected” for a reason – they affect people in areas of the world where the access to healthcare, including medicines, is limited or non-existent. Moreover, the affected populations are generally poor and without the economic means to healthcare services. The fact that people in most need of new and better treatment for these age-old conditions live for the most part in poverty leads to market-failure in terms of research and development (R&D) investment. Simply put, most innovation is market-driven and if there is no perceived market for a new invention, necessary investment will not flow into that area. This is the case with NTDs and the result is that there is an urgent need for new and better innovation models to produce treatments, cures and vaccines for NTDs.
In 2011, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH) partnered with leading pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions and research organizations to create the WIPO Re:Search consortium, dedicated to sharing innovation in the fight against NTDs, TB and malaria. WIPO Re:Search is founded on the belief that intellectual property and knowledge can be used creatively to stimulate the invention of new health solutions while simultaneously ensuring that these solutions are accessible by the most disadvantaged populations.
Through WIPO Re:Search, Members from both the public and private sector make valuable intellectual property assets available on a royalty-free basis to qualified researchers around the world who are seeking to develop new solutions to NTDs. The consortium also involves the sharing of services, such as access to company research facilities, screening of compounds, as well as the sharing of expertise and hosting of scientists.
The principal implementing tools developed by WIPO Re:Search are the Public Database (to provide transparency and accessibility of information) and the Partnership Hub (to facilitate collaboration and partnerships). The Public Database is composed of intellectual property assets that Providers have chosen to make available through WIPO Re:Search. All the information is publicly available and can be accessed without registration. Providers to the database submit summary information relevant to: hits, leads, lead series, preclinical candidates, clinical candidates, enabling technologies, intellectual property (IP), formulation, diagnostic tools, vaccines, new biological entities, know-how, or other services for the purpose of facilitating R&D. All licenses granted for R&D and manufacturing must be royalty-free to any user anywhere in the world. Any products developed for these diseases under a WIPO Re:Search Agreement must be sold on a royalty-free basis in all LDCs. Access terms for other developing countries are subject to agreement between the parties.
The Partnership Hub, administered by BVGH, plays the crucial role of facilitating collaborations among consortium members. The Partnership Hub identifies researchers’ needs for IP and related resources to advance product development, finds other members that may be able to meet these needs and then helps to forge mutually beneficial collaborations with clearly defined roles, responsibilities and objectives.
Launched in October 2011 with 30 members, today WIPO Re:Search has 63 members and has successfully concluded 13 collaboration agreements. A further 10 agreements are in advanced stages of negotiation, while 24 are in early stages of discussion. It is important to note that alongside the sharing of compounds and other IP assets, these collaborations also include the sharing of know-how and expertise as well as hosting arrangements. For example, a hosting agreement between the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine in Ghana is in the final stages of negotiation. Under the agreement, a scientist from the Kumasi Center will be hosted by UCSF for one year and will be trained in capacity building and drug discovery for schistosomiasis (a disease caused by parasitic worms found in contaminated soil and water).
Dr. Ellis Owusu-Dabo, Scientific Director for the Kumasi Center, highlighted the unique opportunities that focused collaboration through WIPO Re:Search had provided to his institution: “The whole platform…the connectivity, the network…the opportunity to build capacities, to share knowledge and skills, skills transfer…[for our scientist to be able to go to UCSF] and work with a very renowned scientist…it would not have happened if we had not joined WIPO Re:Search.”
In addition to global pharmaceutical companies, members of WIPO Re:Search include universities and research centers worldwide. Of particular importance are the several research centers from the African continent whose participation is a key component in the development of new and better treatments for NTDs. Dr. Dennis Liotta, Professor of Chemistry at Emory University, a WIPO Re:Search Member, summed up the efficiencies generated by the WIPO Re:Search innovation model as follows: “WIPO Re:Search…is a catalyst…speeding up research in neglected tropical diseases by coordinating activities between a variety of groups that normally wouldn’t know about each other or have the opportunity to interact with each other…With these partner opportunities come efficiencies in moving potential drugs or diagnostics or vaccines forward to meet unmet medical needs, especially in the field of neglected tropical diseases.”
For more information, please contact: Joe Bradley, Head, Intergovernmental Organizations and Partnerships Section, World Intellectual Property Organization.