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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Open Innovation


Thomas Bombelles of the World Intellectual Property Organization explores the role of the recent consortium WIPO Re:Search in fostering advances in R&D into neglected tropical diseases through the creative use of intellectual property.

The public health challenges facing developing and least developed countries (LDCs) are complex and require multiple approaches. One priority is the development of new and better medicines and vaccines for diseases that predominantly affect the poor. As stated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2010 report, 'Working to overcome the impact of neglected tropical diseases', "neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), malaria and tuberculosis blight the lives of more than a billion people worldwide and threaten the health of millions more." NTDs are largely a symptom of poverty and disadvantage. Those most affected are the poorest populations who are often living in remote rural areas, urban slums and shanty towns, or in conflict zones. In addition to their negative impact on health, NTDs contribute to perpetuate a cycle of poverty and stigma that often leaves people unable to work, go to school or participate in community life. The WHO report called for more R&D to develop better interventions as a key component of an overall strategy to combat these diseases.

The system of intellectual property rights primarily, but by no means exclusively, supports investment in innovation that yields many new inventions, such as life-saving medicines. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the specialised United Nations agency focused on intellectual property.

WIPO Re:Search is founded on the belief that intellectual property and knowledge can be used creatively to stimulate the invention of new health solutions, while also ensuring access for the most disadvantaged populations. Recognising the need for more progress in neglected disease research, several of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, WIPO and BIO Ventures for Global Health joined efforts in 2011 to form WIPO Re:Search. The purpose of WIPO Re:Search is to foster collaborations to advance and stimulate research and development for new and better treatment options for those suffering from these conditions.

WIPO Re:Search is a new consortium through which public and private sector organisations around the world are making valuable intellectual property available on a royalty-free basis to qualified researchers anywhere in the world seeking to develop new solutions for NTDs, malaria and tuberculosis. Services, such as access to company research facilities, screening of compounds, as well as the sharing of expertise and hosting of scientists, are also offered through WIPO Re:Search.

The principal implementing tools developed by WIPO Re:Search are the Public Database, to guarantee transparency and accessibility of information, and the Partnership Hub, to facilitate collaboration and cross-sector partnerships. The Public Database is composed of intellectual property assets that providers have chosen to make available through WIPO Re:Search. All the information is publicly available and can be accessed without registration. Providers to the database submit summary information relevant to: hits, leads, lead series, preclinical candidates, clinical candidates, enabling technologies, intellectual property, formulation, diagnostic tools, vaccines, new biological entities, know-how, or other services for the purpose of facilitating R&D. All licenses granted for R&D and manufacture must be royalty-free to any user anywhere in the world. Any products developed for these diseases under a WIPO Re:Search Agreement must be sold on a royalty-free basis in all LDCs. Access terms for other developing countries are subject to agreement between the parties.

Because collaborations are critical to success in science, the Partnership Hub is a key component of WIPO Re:Search. As the Partnership Hub Administrator, BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH) actively engages with members – including major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, academic and other non-profit research institutions, government, and non-governmental organisations – to facilitate neglected tropical disease research collaborations among members.

Through the Partnership Hub, WIPO Re:Search connects providers and potential users so that assets and knowledge are shared to accelerate the development of products in the fight against NTDs. As WIPO Re:Search develops over time, WIPO and BIO Ventures for Global Health are collecting and analysing feedback in order to ensure that the consortium’s operations, in particular the database and related services, are useful to the global health research community.

Launched in October 2011 with 30 members, today WIPO Re:Search has 50 members and the first collaborative research agreements were announced in August 2012. The first WIPO Re:Search agreements were made by AstraZeneca, which is collaborating with research institutions to study novel treatments for Chagas disease, sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis (snail fever), and tuberculosis. Specifically, the agreements are with:

● The University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Originally developed for osteoarthritis, AstraZeneca’s mature cathepsin inhibitors will be tested by UCSF researchers for activity in biochemical and phenotypic screens for two parasitic diseases: schistosomiasis and kinetoplastid diseases. Schistosomiasis can damage internal organs, impair growth and cognitive development in children, and the urinary form can increase risk for bladder cancer in adults. Kinetoplastid diseases include sleeping sickness and Chagas disease

● The University of Dundee
Researchers will test a selection of glycogen synthase kinase (GSK)-3 inhibitors, which were originally     developed for a potential treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, against parasites responsible for Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness

● iThemba Pharmaceuticals
AstraZeneca will provide iThemba with computational and medicinal chemistry support for development of iThemba’s isocitrate lyase inhibitors, compounds intended as a novel treatment for tuberculosis

In addition to global pharmaceutical companies, members of WIPO Re:Search include universities and research centres worldwide. Of particular importance are the several research centres from the African continent whose participation is an important component to the development of new and better treatments for NTDs


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WIPO Re:Search is a results-oriented project that, through the creative and innovative use of intellectual property, facilitates the research and development and technology transfer needed to find concrete solutions to one of the most challenging issues of global health today. In addition to contributing to finding cures or treatments for neglected tropical diseases, malaria and tuberculosis, WIPO Re:Search provides a new and innovative model of IP sharing and management, demonstrating that intellectual property can and does serve the needs of countries at all levels of development. www.wipo.int/research
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