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This former pharmaceutical exec figured out a brand-new way to finance treatments for global diseases. And he’s already doing it

This former pharmaceutical exec figured out a brand-new way to finance treatments for global diseases. And he’s already doing it
[Illustration: Artur Tenczyński]


Numerous diseases afflict billions but lack good treatments because they are not profitable enough for drugmakers. Cholera, malaria, dengue, and Zika all fall under the “neglected disease” heading, as does river blindness, a parasitic infection. Mark Sullivan, a veteran of GSK and Gilead, knew there were promising leads languishing in academic labs. He decided to “adopt” some of them, convening a virtual team to design and manage every part of the development and approval process—and paying for it in a revolutionary way. Here’s how it worked: Sullivan’s not-for-profit, Medicines Development for Global Health, acquired the license to develop the drug moxidectin in 2014 for human indications, including river blindness, a condition covered by the FDA’s Tropical Disease Priority Review program. That entitled the organization to a priority review for moxidectin—plus a transferable voucher for priority review (6 months versus 10) of a second application for any type of drug. “Gaining four months on a billion-dollar drug is worth a lot of money,” says Sullivan. (Recently, vouchers have sold for more than $100 million.) Leveraging the potential value of its voucher, MDGH raised $13 million from social impact investors, which helped get moxidectin through two clinical trials in Africa. In June 2018, the FDA approved it as the first new treatment for river blindness in 20 years.

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