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Putting Compassion Behind Compounds

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Putting Compassion Behind Compounds

Our mission is to serve patients, even ones who don’t have any money, says Richard Chin, chief executive officer of the Institute for OneWorld Health (iOWH) in San Francisco. Although that sounds like a foundation’s mission, Chin runs a pharmaceutical company—the first nonprofit one in the U.S., founded in 2000. iOWH focuses primarily on creating new drugs to treat infectious diseases in developing countries. For example, this nonprofit organization developed the paromycin IM injection as a treatment for visceral leishmaniasis, a deadly disease that infects half a million people each year. iOWH is also working with sanofi-aventis, Amyris and the University of California, Berkeley, on a semi-synthetic version of the anti-malarial artemisinin.

Without turning profits on products, however, iOWH turns to benefactors for funding. Much of that, more than 80 percent, comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, the UK Department of International Development provides another 10 percent. The rest comes from other foundations and individuals. “Ultimately, we want to be selfsustaining,” says Chin, “but that’s not where we are.”

Despite still struggling to be self-sufficient, iOWH shows amazing efficiency. “It costs a for-profit pharma about $1 billion dollars to develop a drug,” Chin explains, “but we can do it for $50 million, because we have to.”

To be so efficient, iOWH uses several strategies. First, it starts with compounds that already show promise and have some data to support it. Next, iOWH runs its own studies in lower cost areas, like India. “In those places, we tap into the local talent,” Chin adds. Third, iOWH takes the most economical steps all along the process, even when that slows down development.

This nonprofit also gets help from large pharmaceutical companies. For example, iOWH received free access to Roche’s chemical library. Moreover, Novartis is working with the iOWH to help it generate lead compounds.

In thinking about treating infectious diseases in developing countries, Chin says, “Clearly, there’s a gap in terms of social needs that corporations are not meeting, and governments and other sectors are not quite meeting either.” Still, he remains confident. “Overall, interest in neglected diseases is clearly on the uptake.”

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