UCSF Seminar on Socioeconomic Delivering the fruits of biotechnology to the developing world: Insti

By Kevin Boyd on February 07, 2000

Leaders from governments, biotechnology companies, and multi-lateral agencies
from around the world will gather in Carmel Valley, CA, February 18-21 to study
how best to promote development of drugs and vaccines for the world’s poorest
countries. This Global Health Forum: “Creating Global Markets for Orphan Drugs

& Vaccines: A Challenge for Public/Private Partnership,” will be sponsored by
the Institute for Global Health, of the University of California, San
Francisco, and UC Berkeley. 

Although the forum is closed to the press and the public, its participants will
publish a set of conclusions and recommendations for action.  They will discuss
these recommendations at a press briefing in San Francisco, Tuesday, February
22.

As the biotechnology and vaccine industries have blossomed in recent decades,
they have focused predominantly on diseases affecting the world’s richest
countries. Diseases that plague poor countries, such as malaria and sleeping
sickness, have been largely ignored, said Dr. Richard Feachem, PhD, DSc(Med),
founding director of the Institute for Global Health, and a professor of
international health at UCSF and UC Berkeley. 

“Modern biomedical science and biotechnology are beginning to deliver
fantastically powerful new drugs and new vaccines. We must find ways to bring
the fruits of medical science to all people in the world who could benefit from
them.  If we fail, the consequences will be catastrophic,” he said. 

Without a more concerted effort, the epidemics developing countries are now
facing will reach catastrophic proportions, Feachem said.  “In a few years,
malaria will be untreatable, and HIV will have caused devastation in Asia as it
has already in Africa,” he said.  Malaria parasites are quickly becoming
resistant and there are no new drugs in the development pipeline, and HIV
vaccines that low income countries can afford and use are still years away, he

Several public/private partnerships targeting individual diseases in developing
countries already exist, including the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative,
the River Blindness Control Program, and the Medicines for Malaria Venture. 
And, while these partnerships have made some progress, Feachem said the forum
will examine how the overall problem can be addressed more effectively.
“Instead of inventing a new partnership for each problem, can we take a more
general approach to the problem and thereby create a more lasting solution?”

To tackle this question, Feachem has recruited an all-star cast, which includes
the ministers of both India and Indonesia, executives from Merck and Co.,
Glaxo-Wellcome, and other biopharmaceutical companies, and senior
representatives from the World Bank, World Trade Organization, and World Health
Organization. 

In organizing this meeting, Feachem invited not only the leaders in world
health, but also many decision-makers who would not usually attend such a
meeting.  “Many of these people are in positions of power, but they don’t
necessarily spend much of their time thinking about these issues,” he said. 

One question that participants will debate is whether efforts should
concentrate more on promoting research and development on drugs and vaccines
for diseases like malaria and river blindness, or put more emphasis on
strengthening the markets for these products in developing countries. 

“There’s a lot of uncertainty among pharmaceutical companies about what the
potential market is outside the wealthy countries,” Feachem said.  One possible
solution is for governments of developing countries to be encouraged to commit
to buy a new drug or vaccine, a commitment that could be guaranteed through
World Bank loans, he said.

The Global Health Forum will be the first of many to be sponsored by the
Institute for Global Health.  All the forums will attempt to forge policy
consensus and agree on actions to address pressing global health issues. 
Topics for future forums include mental health, private sector response to the
HIV pandemic, and the economics of HIV vaccines. 

The Institute for Global Health was established in May, 1999, by UC San
Francisco and UC Berkeley, in close collaboration with Stanford University, and
with leading corporations and organizations in the Bay Area.  The Institute
conducts research, develops and evaluates policy, provides high-level training,
and forges consensus on joint action among leading scientists and policy makers
from all parts of the world.

Global Health Forum press briefing:
9:00 am - 10:00am
Tuesday, February 22
Institute for Global Health
5th Floor International Conference Room (Suite 508)
74 New Montgomery St.
San Francisco

The panel will feature:
  - Sean Lance, President and CEO of Chiron Corporation
  - Muhammad Athiollah Sohibul Hikam, Indonesia’s minister of research and
  technology
  - Leaders from industry and global health organizations (pending confirmation)

Each panelist will discuss his or her perspective on the issues and
recommendations of the forum, and answer reporters’ questions.  Copies of the
Forum’s recommendations, as well as the pre-forum briefing booklet, will be
available before the briefing upon request.