The biotech industry provides rich resources and expertise that could help tackle neglected diseases, say Joanna E. Lowell and Christopher D. Earl from BIO Ventures for Global Health in Washington DC.
Biotech has several advantages over the pharmaceutical industry, argue the authors. Companies are younger and more entrepreneurial so can take higher risks, are focused on innovation, and specialise in creating methods to find drug targets that should be amenable to drug discovery for neglected diseases. Biotech companies have become the engines of innovation for global pharmaceutical development, say the authors.
Many neglected diseases — including malaria, tuberculosis and lymphatic filariasis — suffer from an 'innovation gap', where too few drug discovery programmes are in place to ensure a steady stream of approved treatments. More drug discovery is critical to sustaining a pipeline of new medicines — and it could come from the biotech industry, argue the authors.
But to get involved, biotech companies need educating about the opportunities, incentives and markets available to the application of their technologies. Connecting companies to academic experts who understand the biology of neglected diseases, and with larger companies accustomed to running clinical trials in the developing world, is also essential.