Can A Pasta King Bring Generic Drugs To Sub-Saharan Africa?
Mar16

Can A Pasta King Bring Generic Drugs To Sub-Saharan Africa?

Last week, Lisa wrote a story about India-based Cadila Pharmaceuticals becoming a partial investor in a proposed drug manufacturing site in Rwanda. This guest post from C&EN reporter Linda Wang explains another partnership in that vein. Cameroonian billionaire entrepreneur Celestin Tawamba is hoping that the enormous success he’s had in building a pasta empire in central and sub-Saharan Africa can be replicated in his latest endeavor—to establish a state-of-the-art generic drug production facility in his native Cameroon. In April 2010, Tawamba, who is widely known as “the pasta king,” launched Pharmaceutical Industrial Company (Cinpharm S.A.), in Douala, Cameroon. With financial backing from foreign investors such as Cipla, India’s largest pharmaceutical company, cinPharm has started blister packing and distributing generic drugs, including paracetamol, ibuprofen, metronidazole, amoxicillin, and cotrimoxazole. Cinpharm will also produce generic anti-malaria, anti-TB, and anti-retroviral drugs as well as drugs against gastrointestinal and other diseases prevalent in central and sub-Saharan Africa. The drugs are currently supplied in bulk by Cipla, but cinPharm hopes to one day manufacture its own pharmaceuticals. The ability to blister pack drugs in sub-Saharan African is significant because it helps to lower the cost of imported drugs, which can be extremely expensive and unaffordable for most Africans. "Local drug production may soon fill the empty shelves in local pharmacies and finally take care of alleviating chronic drug shortage," says Rolande Hodel, president of AIDSfreeAFRICA, who alerted C&EN to Cinpharm’s activities. Tawamba’s rapid rise to success with his pasta business is impressive. According to a July 15, 2009, article in the Cameroonian business journal, the Entrepreneuer, Tawamba took out a loan in 2002 and set up La Pasta S.A. in Douala, producing 25 tons of flour and spaghetti. Seven years later, the company was producing 250 tons of pasta and had employed 500 workers. With more than 300 employees and plans to hire additional scientists, Cinpharm is fast becoming one of the largest employers in Cameroon. Hodel says AIDSfreeAFRICA is supporting Cinpharm by helping to raise awareness about the company and recruit chemists with an interest in working in Cameroon. For more information about Cinpharm and other drug production efforts in Cameroon, visit AIDSfreeAFRICA’s...

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AstraZeneca, MMV in Malaria Research Pact
Jun28

AstraZeneca, MMV in Malaria Research Pact

Yet another company is opening up its molecular vault to help speed the development of drugs for neglected diseases. AstraZeneca will allow the non-profit Medicines to sift through the 500,000 compounds in its library to test for activity against P. falciparum, the worst of the malaria parasites. MMV has enlisted Vicky Avery, professor at the Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, to conduct the screening. If Avery finds any promising compounds, AstraZeneca will start investigating their viability as drugs out of its Bangalore, India, R&D facility. The deal marks the second neglected diseases-related pact signed by AstraZeneca in recent months. In May, the company teamed with the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development to create a joint portfolio of compounds active against tuberculosis. AstraZeneca joins the growing ranks of pharma companies moving beyond simple donations of medicines to actually devoting resources and lab time to the development of desperately needed new treatments for diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and sleeping sickness. Among the recent efforts by pharma firms: GlaxoSmithKline and Alnylam have established a patent pool that is open to any researcher working on neglected diseases;  Lilly, Merck, and Pfizer have created the Asian Cancer Research Group, a non-profit that will generate a freely-available pharmacogenetic cancer database; and Merck and Wellcome Trust have set up MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories, a lab in India that is expected to eventually employ some 60 scientists, all working towards finding or improving vaccines for the developing...

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More On Malaria Open Innovation Announcement
May21

More On Malaria Open Innovation Announcement

A slew of molecules that might lead to the next antimalarial drug are up for grabs, now that GlaxoSmithKline, the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, and a consortium led by a St. Jude Children's Research Hospital team have released their data into the public domain. As I wrote today, this is great news for the malaria community, which has to do drug discovery on a shoestring compared to, say, the oncology community. But a large-scale data free-for-all like this one (GlaxoSmithKline says that their collection is the largest one that a pharmaceutical company has made universally available) is bound to set some precedents. We've blogged about open innovation for neglected diseases before, noting that skeptics may wonder if these efforts will lead to a warm fuzzy feeling rather than tangible scientific progress. Researchers need to think carefully about how they release and curate their data so that doesn't come to pass, says Sean Ekins of Collaborative Drug Discovery, the US-based informatics service provider that is one of the hosts for GSK's dataset. Collaborative Drug Discovery (CDD) is a spinout of Eli Lilly & Company that is now working with the Gates Foundation to foster collaboration and open innovation approaches for tuberculosis, while CDD are also working with researchers on other neglected diseases. CDD worked closely with GSK to make the malaria data broadly available to the scientific community. "How can we ensure that the next datasets that come through will have a high value? How can we avoid False positive and false negative issues in assays?" Ekins asks. The issues he raises, to me, are similar to the ones Derek Lowe brought up a few months back, when GSK first announced they would be making their data public. Another important issue that still needs examining is that of coordination, Ekins adds. Consortia and public-private partnerships have emerged to fill up the thin malaria pipeline, but there is still more that can be done, he says. "The bigger picture here should be the acceleration of hits to drugs," Ekins says. "How this data will work to catalyze malaria drug discovery is a matter of discussion, but releasing the data is an important first step." On a related note, on our previous open innovation blog entry Jean-Claude Bradley commented: "Are the biotechs trying to generate any income from participating – or is this strictly a humanitarian contribution?" I don't know about every case, but for this case I asked GSK: Suppose one of these compounds is successful in clinical trials and becomes a bona fide drug one day. How are the rights to the compound distributed? Here's the reply...

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