Nonprofits share valuable lessons on efficient drug development

When Tachi Yamada left pharma to spearhead development work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he had plenty of doubts about the development model that was being shaped there. But now that he's headed into the venture capital world, he's taking along a playbook he helped write which could offer biopharma companies a lesson on efficiency.

"I looked at what we had and where we were investing and I thought, ‘There is no way that we can be successful with what we have got,'" Yamada, the former GSK R&D chief, recently told colleagues of his in the world of product development partnerships, or PDPs. "You have actually proved me wrong."

The PDP world consists of a number of nonprofits that develop new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for neglected diseases in poor countries, reports the Financial Times. Their success has depended on creating partnerships with academia and biopharma companies, an open R&D environment much like Sanofi and others have turned to recently. And in Gates' case they were able to leverage $2 billion of foundation money into a $2 billion commitment from other backers to push ahead on 13 projects--pretty good if you compare it with far larger companies that have much less to show after spending far more. But lessons are being shared from across the R&D world, says Mel Spigelman, who runs the TB Alliance.

"[PDPs] have taken teachings from pharma and applied them to neglected diseases," he tells the Financial Times. "Like Big Pharma, their strength is to have big portfolios, so if one product doesn't make it, they have others to turn to. Like biotech, they are lean and virtual, with a lot of flexibility."

It's also been pointed out that these NGOs haven't always been boldly venturing into the high-risk world of unmet medical needs. In many cases, they're tweaking existing therapeutics--grabbing at the low-hanging fruit that would land biotech CEOs in a world of hurt if they tried the same approach to product development.

- here's the article from the Financial Times