Disrupting The Pharmaceutical Industry To Save The World From Diarrhea
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Pharmaceutical companies like to focus on developing two kinds of drugs: blockbuster drugs that lots of people use (like Lipitor), and more recently, extremely expensive niche drugs. Drugs targeted specifically for common afflictions that affect the developing world aren’t as profitable and are often left out of the picture entirely.
Global health nonprofit Path is trying to change that with an ambitious drug development program that targets diseases like kala-azar (also known as black fever disease), malaria, HIV, and diarrheal diseases, such as cholera. The organization’s head of drug development, Ponni Subbiah, is a neurologist and longtime executive at pharma giant Pfizer. She joined One World Health–now the drug development arm at Path–in 2011. I had the chance to catch up with Subbiah at this year’s Social Capital Markets conference in San Francisco.
One of the big differences between working at a nonprofit and a place like Pfizer, says Subbiah, is the funding. “In a nonprofit, you don’t have revenues coming in. At a big company, there are lots and lots of resources,” she says. “At Pfizer, if you had a good strategic plan that made technical sense, regulatory-wise sense, and business sense, you got the funding. But in a smaller company and a nonprofit, it’s critical that you understand the funding landscape.”
At the moment, Path’s big focus is on diarrheal diseases. Diarrhea is not part of what Subbiah calls the “big three”–HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, all of which get a lot of attention. Working on an unsexy disease also isn’t particularly conducive to funding. But make no mistake–diarrhea is an epidemic. There are almost 1.7 billion cases of diarrheal diseases each year around the world, and almost 760,000 children under the age of 5 die from diarrheal diseases annually.
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