LSTM debate highlights importance of product development partnerships in the fight against malaria and NTDs

News article 3 Jul 2014
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‘Product development partnerships are vital to the development of new drugs’, said Andy Wright, Vice President Global Health Programmes for GlaxoSmithKline. The remark came halfway through the debate ‘Calling the Parasite’s Bluff’, organised by LSTM as part of the International Business of Health week, which in itself formed part of the International Festival for Business, held in Liverpool over the months of June and July.

The event started with a presentation of Professor David Molyneux of LSTM who gave an overview of LSTM’s approach to partnerships from the early overseas expeditions of the late 19th and early 20th century to present day examples of industry collaboration by the A·WOL consortium fighting river blindness and elephantiasis as well as Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) trying to find novel ways to save lives by controlling vectors. Professor Molyneux highlighted the post 2015 challenges especially the impact of climate change; urbanisation and migration on disease patterns and how cross sector interaction is required to face new pandemic threats which risk overriding chronic endemic problems.

Moderated by Peter Sissons, former news presenter and LSTM vice-president, Dr Pascal Housset (Bayer); Mr Andy Wright (GSK);  Professor Janet Hemingway (LSTM), Dr. Nick Hamon (IVCC) and Rt Hon Stephen O’Brien MP discussed the benefits and constraints of partnerships for research; product development and bringing prevention and treatment products to the market.  Are these partnerships the answer to the ongoing impact of malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) on the lives of over a billion people worldwide.

The various levels of partnerships were being discussed. Whereas cooperation is required on country level to be able to trial and subsequently deliver new diagnostics and drugs at the point of need also the business to consumer networks need ongoing improvement to reach individuals and engage their communities. Successful community engagement can lead to 70% of drugs in the health system reaching the patient. Given the number of parties involved in existing partnerships (such as A·WOL) its unique character was highlighted as this was amongst actors who otherwise operate in traditionally very competitive environments.

On more regional level questions were asked what the role of Smaller and Medium sized Enterprise (SME) could be in these big, sometimes globally operating partnerships.  The participants emphasized the growing need for SMEs to get involved in the fight against malaria and NTDs, especially those with a ambitious growth strategy . On concept level as that is seen as vital to get new drug and diagnostic ideas into the pipeline but also in supporting roles such as IT and development of mobile applications. In addition linking up with high profile academic institutions and globally operating industries would also have reputational benefits and access to new markets for involved SMEs.

On all these level politics can play a facilitative role ensuring product development partnerships come to fruition and can flourish as well as ensuring that UK based research and innovation receives as much support as possible. Successful management of malaria and NTDs is the prize for our generation and is within grasp. However, the concluding words of Professor Hemingway highlighted that by 2050 around 67% of under 15 year old will be living in the Tropics. It is an indication of the sheer size of the challenge academia and industry, big and small, are facing.