Do rich markets lure biotechs away from low-cost remedies?

A pair of Canadian researchers has taken a close look at 78 small biotech companies operating in India, Brazil, China and South Africa and found that many are pursuing a host of new drugs and vaccines that would be affordable in the developing world. But there's a caveat: Many of these developers may be deflected from their mission if they're hijacked by companies more interested in treating the diseases that afflict the affluent in industrial countries.

Altogether, the biotech companies they studied had 69 drugs and vaccines on the market with another 54 in the development pipeline. But pursuing therapies for developing countries' ailments pushes them toward partnerships due to their limited marketing prospects. And many prospective partners are a lot more focused on drugs that will spur greater revenue. As a result, some of these new biotechs are switching their sights to afflictions like diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.

Rahim Rezaie and Peter Singer from the University of Toronto highlight examples of companies that have done just that. And they note that India's Shantha Biotechnics, which has slashed the cost of some therapies, may be about to shift focus now that Sanofi-Aventis has bought them out.

In a commentary published by the journal Nature Biotechnology, the researchers suggest a slate of initiatives to buoy drug developers out to advance new therapies for the poor. They want to see more research funds from groups like the Wellcome Trust, new regulations that mimic the FDA's orphan drug status and new public/private partnerships.

- here's the release
- read the New Scientist story