March 08, 2015

Research Roundup: Leadership shifts at USAID, new discoveries in tuberculosis research, an emerging model for nonprofit pharmaceutical companies, and more

Senior Program Assistant

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced last week that Ariel Pabos-Mendez, the assistant administrator for Global Health, will serve as the coordinator for Child and Maternal Survival. USAID stated that his "dual role" will ensure that maternal and child health remains a “central priority” of the Bureau of Global Health. Katie Taylor, who served as the interim coordinator, was named deputy coordinator, and will continue to serve as deputy assistant administrator for Global Health.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University made a groundbreaking discovery about the pathogen that causes tuberculosis, which could ultimately lead to the development of more effective drugs and vaccines. The bacteria generates pieces of DNA that—to the immune cells—resemble and behave like a virus, and thus the immune system responds to the bacteria as though it were a virus. That virus-like piece of DNA, known as c-di-AMP, elicits the production of INF-beta proteins as part of the immune response. The scientists infected mice with tuberculosis bacterium that was manipulated to release elevated numbers of c-di-AMP molecules, and the mice survived twice as long as those infected with normal tuberculosis bacterium.

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration approved LILETTA™, a hormonal intrauterine device developed by Medicines360, a nonprofit biotech company focused on women’s health. Medicines360 is partnering with Actavis to market and lead sales for the device. While the article notes the paucity of nonprofit pharmaceutical companies, it highlights OneWorld Health, which recently merged with PATH and whose founder also founded Medicines360. The organization, which relied on donors throughout the research and development (R&D) of LILETTA™, intends to sustain itself on sales moving forward.

The Council on Foreign Relations took an in-depth look at the history of artemisinin, the leading agent used to treat malaria, from discovery through R&D for effective drugs. The search began when the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, which is responsible for the vast majority of malaria cases, developed resistance to existing treatments. In 1967, the Chinese government established a team of nearly 500 scientists, who identified and researched an extensive list of herbs and traditional medicines, ultimately confirming the efficacy of artemisinin in treating malaria. The article is part of a series, the next of which will focus on the market landscape and dynamics for artemisinin-based products.