Post by Andy Jeninga*
Today's New York Times featured a profile of the Institute for OneWorld Health, a San Francisco-based nonprofit pharmaceutical producer that focuses exclusively on diseases affecting the developing world.
Paromomycin, the medicine to cure visceral leishmaniasis - commonly known as Black River Disease - has been around since the 1960's, but the dearth of profits in its development and production made pharmaceutical companies shy away, while the WHO lacked the funds to cover its high development costs. Seeing this lack of motivation to eradicate diseases in the developing world, Dr. Victoria Hale, President and CEO of OneWorld Health, garnered nonprofit status for her organization and began to devote time to developing the drug. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, OneWorld Health is now on the brink of gaining approval for its generic version of paromomcyin from the Indian government. This approval would be, according to the article, the first time a charity has successfully brought a new drug to market.
Black River Disease is generally considered an obscure disease even though it is the second largest parasitic killer in the world behind malaria, killing an estimated 200,000-500,000 a year. Regardless, this article may be a promising and encouraging glimpse into the future of fighting disease in the developing world. We should applaud Victoria Hale for her efforts and use OneWorld Health as a role model for the future development of drugs fighting diseases that prey upon the poor. But there are also a few suggestions that must not fall on deaf ears. Among them, it must be noted that the development of a new drug is but a means to a larger goal; it is not an end in itself. As the article highlights, OneWorld Health is currently having trouble finding avenues of distribution for its version of paromomcyin and is looking into partnering with the efforts of a British nonprofit group, Riders for Health. Overall, the contribution of product development public-private partnerships like OneWorld Health are clear, given that their version of paromomcyin costs only a fiftieth of its competitors, for example, but such organizations must also seek to complement the existing structures. If this is accomplished, the developed world can make a significant impact in the scourge of disease worldwide.
*Andy Jeninga is an intern with CGD's HIV/AIDS Monitor and is currently pursuing a degree at Georgetown University.