[Ip-health] Neglected Disease Initiative at Northeastern University - quasi open source

Baker, Brook b.baker at neu.edu
Tue Oct 16 06:43:35 PDT 2012

Northeastern University News – Oct. 16, 2012
Global Health Initiative to address neglected tropical diseases
Ninety per­cent of global health­care and med­ical research money is spent on dis­eases that affect only 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, according to Michael Pol­lastri<http://www.northeastern.edu/pollastri/>, a pro­fessor of chem­istry and chem­ical biology<http://www.northeastern.edu/chem/> who spoke at the Col­lege of Sci­ence Col­lo­quium last Friday.

Nearly 1,400 new drugs entered the market between 1975 and 1999, he said, but only 13 of those were designed for treating par­a­sitic dis­eases, which affect more than one bil­lion people each year.

“These dis­eases affect the poorest people in the world, people who have no voice, people who have no money,” Pol­lastri said. Thus, he explained, the “block­buster” drug model, in which great invest­ments must be met with sig­nif­i­cant finan­cial return, does not apply. For that reason, Pol­lastri, who entered acad­emia after nearly a decade in the phar­ma­ceu­tical industry, believes the respon­si­bility to find new treat­ments for neglected trop­ical dis­eases, or NTDs, falls on research labs like his own.

Toward that end, Pol­lastri announced the launch of the Col­lege of Science’s Inte­grated Ini­tia­tive in Global Health<http://www.northeastern.edu/globalhealth/> at last week’s Col­lo­quium. The ini­tia­tive will include a unique open-​​source data-​​sharing plat­form. Cur­rently, most drug-​​discovery research oper­ates under com­plete con­fi­den­tiality, despite the fact that this approach may dupli­cate efforts and delay solu­tions. On the other hand, a fully open model is hard for sci­en­tists to trust, owing to the fear of having their ideas and data stolen.

Pol­lastri hopes that North­eastern will be able to operate some­where in the middle: “We’re in the process of devel­oping a model that can help bring data together in a way that pro­tects everyone’s intel­lec­tual prop­erty and yet allows for cross-​​fertilization,” he said.

The model includes an Internet-​​based “knowl­edge store” con­taining data from labs across the globe working on dis­eases such as tuber­cu­losis, lesh­ma­ni­asis, African sleeping sick­ness and Chagas dis­ease. Only those who agree to a set of strict con­fi­den­tiality rules will be allowed access, but once admitted, they will have freedom to use what others have con­tributed to help inform their own work.

“What I’m trying to do is set up a safe area where people can share data, without fearing they’re going to give up their ability to patent,” Pol­lastri explained by way of example.

The ini­tia­tive is cur­rently focused on hiring new fac­ulty in the areas of med­i­c­inal chem­istry, pathogen biology and public health policy and will include new cur­ricula and a global co-​​operative edu­ca­tion pro­gram focused on global health.

From a sci­en­tific stand­point, the goal of the ini­tia­tive is to deliver drugs that will diminish the burden of neglected trop­ical dis­eases, Pol­lastri said. He added, “In five years our goal is to be a world leader in global health research, schol­ar­ship and training.”

Professor Brook K. Baker

Health GAP (Global Access Project)
Northeastern U. School of Law
Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy
400 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115 USA
Honorary Research Fellow, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban, S. Africa
(w) 617-373-3217
(cell) 617-259-0760
(fax) 617-373-5056
b.baker at neu.edu

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