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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2002

Rob Ridley, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland


Robert Ridley was recently appointed as Co-ordinator, Product Research and Development, WHO/TDR ( WHO/TDR is a Special Programme for Research and Training for Tropical Diseases. His unit's responsibilities within the Programme include drug, vaccine and diagnostics R&D for up to ten tropical diseases. Many of the unit's projects involve public-private R&D partnerships. He moves back to WHO following a period as Chief Scientific Officer for the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), a not-for-profit public-private partnership to discover and develop antimalarial drugs. He helped launch MMV from within WHO/TDR, as Acting Chief Executive Officer, in November 1999 and helped establish its initial portfolio of projects.

His career spans both the public and private sectors. He has an academic background that covers the fields of organic chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology, with positions at the University of Malawi (1980-83), McMaster University, Canada (1983-86) and Edinburgh University (1986-92). In 1992 he moved to industry, working for F. Hoffmann La Roche Ltd. in Basel, where he was a Vice-Director in the Infectious Diseases Drug Discovery department. Since1998 he has worked with WHO and MMV in the area of product research and development and has been heavily engaged in broader issues relating to public sector interactions with the pharmaceutical industry. He has published widely on malaria research related to drugs and vaccines and also has expertise in issues relating to drug policy.


Responding to unmet medical and control needs: Past experiences and future opportunities

As discussed in other sections of this conference, many infectious diseases are prevalent primarily or wholly in Developing Countries, e.g. malaria, leismaniasis, African sleeping sickness, onchocerciasis (river blindness). Many of these indications lack appropriate treatments and affect many millions of people. Some treatments still date back to the early half of the 20th Century: many are becoming less effective due to development of resistance; for many there are safety concerns. Because the disease affect primarily poor people there is a limited market return on R&D investment and limited pharmaceutical industry engagement in product R&D. Nevertheless there is abundant scientific and technological opportunity to make an impact on these unmet medical needs. One key to future success in this area revolves around identifying mechanisms and projects in which public and private sector resources and expertise can combine in a common partnership effort. Financial resources are obviously a key component to success; also good projects, but equally critical are the managerial and governance systems that are put in place to manage these resources and projects. WHO/TDR and other organisations have developed mechanisms for effectively working in partnership with pharmaceutical companies to discover and develop new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for many of these diseases. Some pharmaceutical companies have responded with specific dedicated programmes and projects. Many of these partnerships ultimately extend into areas relating to disease control and have a major impact on public health.

Some examples illustrating TDR's experiences of such partnerships over the past 25 years will be presented to provide a perspective what can be, and has been, undertaken and achieved. These will include examples such as the development of ivermectin for onchocerciasis with Merck (1987), eflornithine for Africa trypanosomiasis with Marion Merrill Dow, now Aventis (1991), miltefosine for visceral leishmaniasis with Zentaris (2002). Some current activities and future opportunities will also be outlined. Another area of activity that will be discussed is the creation of small public-private R&D initiatives with a specific disease focus e.g. Medicines for Malaria Venture, Global Alliance for TB Drug Development and their ability to generate strong product development portfolios. Finally, the issues determining which model of management and governance is appropriate for different types of public-private partnership will be addressed. Linked to this perspective is a need to generate further resources, both public and private, so that we can fully capitalise on the scientific and partnership opportunities that exist to improve global health outcomes.