Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ethical Pharmaceuticals

Best wishes for 2007 from all of us at IPMed.

While we have been on a brief break, an important development in the campaign on access to medicines and needs-based research has been announced.

Professor Sunil Shaunak
, Imperial College, and Professor Steve Brocchini, of the School of Pharmacy, University of London, have announced a new model of development and delivery, which they call "ethical pharmaceuticals." The researchers claim that by altering the molecular structure of essential expensive drugs, such as the drug for Hepatitis C, they will be able to develop and market a cheaper alternative, without infringing the original patent or involving pharmaceutical firms. Indeed, pharmaceutical companies have been relying upon such "second generation" innovation to extend the life of a profitable drug before the expiration of patent protection.

With Dr Mire Zloh of the School of Pharmacy, the researchers haved worked to improve the availability and lower costs of existing treatment for Hepatitis C. Dr Zloh has identified the interdisciplinary approach in the research as one of the key factors towards paradigmatic shifts and important developments towards the model for ethical pharmaceuticals. The Schering-Plough drug used to treat Hepatitis C is called PEG-Intron (PEGylated interferon), which means it has a polyethylene glycol (PEG) side-chain on the interferon molecule. The researchers are still using a pegylated interferon but, from the reports, have discovered a way of locating an additional side-chain (second generation pegylation) elsewhere on the molecule. This achieves a more pure modified interferon much more cheaply, effectively creating a "new medicine" that is not protected by the patent. However, the industry has suggested that such drugs will still require safety trials and may potentially result in "a huge intellectual property issue."

PolyTherics (Imperial College spin-out company) was developed to build upon the work of Shaunak and Brocchini, and has teamed with the Indian company, Shantha Biotechnics. In this way, Shaunak and Brocchini will be able to develop and market the TheraPEG without selling publicly funded research to "big pharma" to take to market. Speaking to the BBC, Professor Shaunak said, "We in academic medicine can either choose to use our ideas to make large sums of money for small numbers of people, or to look outwards to the global community and make affordable medicines."

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