The article also has rather a lot about US government opposition to the proposed treaty, which includes a requirement that member nations spend 0.01% of GDP annually on neglected diseases, and Bill Gates' opposition as well.
Is there any reason why non-profits aren't doing drug research?
Love's idea suggests the use of cash prizes -- rather than patents -- to incentivize research; say, $2 billion for an effective therapeutic drug for Chagas disease. A cure, once developed, proven, and awarded a prize, would then exist as open-access intellectual property, with manufacturers around the world competing to produce the drug in the most cost effective manner. Implementing the idea, Love said, "is effectively leveraging the power of the free market twice, once to produce the thing you want and then again to manufacture it as economically as possible." The concept is known as delinking.
To combat the problem [of isolated research groups], the R&D treaty would create an observatory, an open platform for researchers in disparate corners of the globe to pool data and coordinate their work. Grants given to fund their studies would come with provisions requiring that the research exist on that public, cloud-based observatory.
Love's concept of delinking is outlined in a proposal for an R&D treaty, which remains in limbo at the WHO in Geneva. It will have its fate decided in late May, at the annual World Health Assembly (WHA), the democratic forum of members states that governs the WHO.
Scannell worked as a consultant in the drug industry and then as an equity analyst, but quit last year to team up with Young once more at small biotech firm Scannell described as "heretical." The company is called e-Therapeutics, and its approaching drug design via the pair's background in networks. "Go back to how the drug industry says it discovers drugs. It looks for individual targets and then it optimizes drugs for high affinity binding on that target," Scannell said. The strategy, to Scannell's and Young's eyes, fails to take into account the complexity of biological systems.
"If you look at the structure of protein-protein interaction networks in cells, or the metabolic networks, these have been designed by evolution to be robust. You've got feedback loops, you've got parallel pathways, you've got redundancies. And what that says is, if you start your search process looking for an individual molecular component you want to perturb to influence a disease, probably evolution has designed your cell that, if you perturb that component, nothing is going to happen." Given the approach, Scannell said, "Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that 95 percent of drugs going into clinical trials fail."
"Historically, you can make a very strong case that the way drugs were discovered when it was cheap and easy -- you can't do all this now because of the regulators, but some of this you might be able to do -- was essentially through broad phenotypic screening, very often in man," Scannell said. "Drugs were regarded as potential tools that might do something useful, and then people essentially searched for uses for the tool. And today we do the exact opposite. Which is we say, we want something that cures Alzheimer's disease, let's design something that cures Alzheimer's disease, and frankly that just doesn't work."
"He [Bill Gates] slowly, as Foundation and as a philanthropist, is being drawn into more open-source policies," Love said. "If you look at the licensing he does on his own government-funded research, he has experienced a little bit of frustration when he doesn't get sufficient openness in the research he's funded himself, so he's begin to put things that much very much like open-source provisions in his own licenses," Love said. "That has been progress, and people have noticed that. It used to be that if you applied to the program to fund libraries -- I know somebody that did this -- she was told you had to eliminate the words 'open-source' because they couldn't fund anything that had even the words."