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Biological Chemistry

Global Health: MIT And South Africa Sign On To Patent Pool For Neglected Diseases

by Lisa M. Jarvis
May 7, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 19

After initially stalling, the Pool for Open Innovation against Neglected Tropical Diseases, a collection of intellectual property (IP) and drug discovery know-how, is gaining traction. At the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s convention in Chicago this week, MIT announced becoming the first university to donate IP to the pool, and South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), a government group that assists biotech firms, said it will use the pool to help develop drugs to treat tuberculosis and malaria.

The patent pool offers free access to IP, expertise, products, and technologies to anyone developing treatments for neglected diseases. In February 2009, GlaxoSmithKline created the pool with a contribution of 800 patents. Shortly thereafter, Alnylam opened its vault of 1,500 patents related to RNAi, creating a vast IP resource.

But the program didn’t pick up momentum, in part because researchers didn’t know what to do with the IP or were simply overwhelmed by the long list of patents at their disposal, said Melinda Moree, CEO of the nonprofit BIO Ventures for Global Health. In January, BVGH came on board as a matchmaker between those contributing resources and the scientists interested in tapping into them.

“This pool tries to strike a balance,” Moree said. Companies can contribute resources without compromising their business model, she noted, and nonprofits, academics, and biotech firms can get the help they need to develop drugs for neglected diseases.

TIA, for one, expects to benefit from the open-innovation model. Not only will South African scientists have access to IP, but some will also have the opportunity to work in GSK’s research facility in Tres Cantos, Spain, to build drug discovery knowledge. “For us, this patent pool is an enormous boost,” TIA Chair Mamphela Ramphele said.


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