In these woeful times, when the globe is warming and hope for humankind is cooling, it is heartening to happen upon news that illustrates a greater good being served and what can be accomplished with enough compassion, perseverance, and creativity. The following [excerpted] article is by Stephanie Strom and may be found in todayâ€™s New York Times:
PATNA, India â€” The drug that could have cured Munia Devi through a series of cheap injections was identified decades ago but then died in the research pipeline because there was no profit in it.
So Mrs. Devi lay limp in a hospital bed here recently, her spleen and liver bulging from under her rib cage as a bilious yellow liquid dripped into her thin arm. The treatment she was receiving can be toxic, and it costs $500. But it was her best hope to cure black fever, a disease known locally as kala azar, which kills an estimated half-million people worldwide each year, almost all of them poor like Mrs. Devi.
Soon, however, all that may change. A small charity based in San Francisco has conducted the medical trials needed to prove that the drug is safe and effective. Now it is on the verge of getting final approval from the Indian government. A course of treatment with the drug is expected to cost just $10, and experts say it could virtually eliminate the disease.
If approval is granted as expected this fall, it will be the first time a charity has succeeded in ushering a drug to market.
This novel way of helping people whose needs have not been met by for-profit pharmaceutical companies is gaining traction. Several partnerships are working to develop drugs to fight neglected diseases, underwritten by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Doctors Without Borders and other groups. Another nonprofit agency, the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation, is searching for a means to prevent tuberculosis.
For its first project, the San Francisco charity, the Institute for OneWorld Health, focused on reclaiming the all but abandoned drug, paromomycin, which research found promising in the 1960â€™s.
That was the easy part. Its hurdles lay elsewhere. The Internal Revenue Service at first denied the charity nonprofit status, concerned that it looked too much like a for-profit enterprise. The World Health Organization, which controlled the drug, was reluctant to hand over the data needed for further development. And OneWorld Health had to set up clinical trials matching United States and European standards in one of the poorest parts of the world.
Nor was it obvious where the money would come from. The idea of a nonprofit drug company struck many as folly when Dr. Victoria Hale, a former Genentech executive and Food and Drug Administration official, founded OneWorld Health in 2001. So Dr. Hale and her husband started the project using their own money, though they have since won support from the Gates foundation, among others.
â€œMy colleagues and mentors in the pharmaceuticals industry told me it was a wild idea, that it would never work out, that I was jeopardizing my reputation,â€? Dr. Hale said. â€œI started this organization knowing our first project had to be a winner or we wouldnâ€™t survive.â€? [full text]