NIH plus big pharma working together Good idea? We think so.

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Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 2.09.57 PMIn the world of drug research, the language can be a little unusual. For example, it is fair to say that easier disease targets, such as HIV, hepatitis C, ulcers and high blood pressure, and certain cancers, have seen advances that have resulted in game changing therapies for those diseases.

On the other hand, not all diseases are so cooperative. Some of these include solid tumor cancers, Parkinson s and (especially) Alzheimer s Disease, and certain autoimmune disorders.

In an effort to address some of the tough nuts, as well as investigating other diseases (type 2 diabetes, autoimmune conditions) that have suboptimal therapies, the NIH has formed a limited collaboration with 10 major drug companies using a very different business model cooperation rather than competition.

Roughly modeled after the "open-source" software concept, this involves collaboration at the very beginning of the drug discovery process understanding the fundamental biology behind diseases and developing screens (tests) that will be useful in predicting the utility of potential drugs later on.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, a survivor (victim?) of 27 years of drug discovery research, likes what he sees, but cautions that nothing will come of this for a long time if ever.

He says, First, the funding allocated $230 million is about one-tenth the amount it takes to discover and develop a single drug, so this is a very small expenditure. But, he continues, The early part of drug discovery is much less costly than later in the process. And these pale by comparison to the cost of pre-clinical and clinical testing. So, although no drug will come out of this, the funding will get them started. Also, the concept of scientists sharing fundamental biology can only help.

There is also the question as to when cooperation ceases and competition begins, since companies will want to use any new technology uncovered to begin proprietary projects.

This is not the first time that government and a private drug company have combined efforts in this case financially to help critical research along. Last year, the federal government took the unprecedented step of providing $250 million to GlaxoSmithKline to pay for their clinical trials of new antibiotics a win-win if ever there was one.

Dr. Bloom s May, 2013 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal reflects this sentiment.