Fast Company

Big Pharma Giving Away Drug Patents To Help Cure Tropical Disease

By offering up their drugs for free to developing countries, drug companies hope to make inroads into new markets, and prevent a few diseases along the way.

Intellectual property is crucial for pharmaceutical companies to survive; without it, their pricey blockbuster drugs can be replaced with cheap generics. And yet, big companies like AstraZeneca, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Sanofi, and Merck are willingly putting some of their intellectual property information in a public database. The pharmaceutical industry hasn't gone crazy--it's just participating in an initiative that aims to treat neglected tropical diseases.

WIPO Re:Search, a collaboration between The World Intellectual Property Organization, BIO Ventures For Global Health, pharmaceutical giants, nonprofits, and universities, is offering up a searchable database of intellectual property from drug companies that can aid in the treatment of diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, Chagas disease, and dengue fever. The initiative will also facilitate partnerships between participating organizations to speed up research and development.

"What the researchers want and what the companies are willing to provide is expertise and know-how between the lines of a patent," says Don Joseph, COO of BIO Ventures for Global Health." They can say, here's work we've done before that worked, here's work that we've done before that didn't work. Don't reinvent the wheel."

It's not that there's a lot of money in developing these drugs. According to Joseph, pharmaceutical companies don't make much from malaria drugs currently on the market. But there's another benefit for pharmaceutical companies participating in WIPO Re:Search: The opportunity to create new relationships in countries around the world where they may not presently have any.

No matter the motivation for big pharma, WIPO Re:Search has the potential to speed up the lengthy, risky process of drug and vaccine development for some of the world's poorest citizens. "The goal is to come out of this initiative with as many new products for neglected diseases as possible," says Joseph.

[Image: Flickr user aurelio.asiain]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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