US-based biopharmaceutical services company Quintiles has been selected as one of six preferred providers by a consortium of 14 Product Development Partnerships (PDPs) working on effective and affordable new medicines for neglected diseases.

The company will partner with consortium members by providing “one-step access” to Quintiles’ global clinical development infrastructure and standards, particularly in the field of infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, it stated.

According to Dr Kelly McKee, Quintiles’ vice president and managing director, public health and government services, the consortium’s work “has the potential to reshape global health within a generation”.

PDPs are not-for-profit organisations that emerged as public-private partnerships in the 1990s. They addressed the reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to invest in the discovery and development of new medicines for diseases that made up a huge proportion of the global health burden but were endemic to some of the world’s poorest countries.

The partnerships bring together the expertise and resources of the public, academic and commercial sectors to develop and bring to market products for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of neglected diseases.

Gates backing

They are a favoured funding mechanism of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports a total of 17 PDPs, including the Global Alliance for Tuberculosis Drug Development and the International Partnership for Microbicides. As of 2009, the Gates Foundation had invested more than US$1.9 billion in PDPs.

As Quintiles noted, the 14 members of the PDP consortium outsourcing clinical development functions to leverage their combined R&D pipelines and make the most cost-effective use of their research and development dollars are partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation has committed US$10 billion over the next 10 years to help research, develop and deliver vaccines and treatments for the world’s poorest countries, Quintiles pointed out. A portion of that commitment is reserved for the PDPs, which also receive funding from government agencies, private entities and other sources.

The 14 consortium members that will draw on the experience and resources of Quintiles and other preferred providers expect to fund 128 Phase I-IV clinical trials over the next two years (2011-2013).

Full details of the PDP consortium or the terms of the preferred provider arrangements were not available, although Quintiles did disclose that one of the PDPs involved was Medicines for Malaria Venture.

While the company could not provide an estimate of the number of PDP trials it would be working on, it said most of them were likely to be in the earlier phases (1-11) of development. 

Financial pressures

PDPs have not been immune to the kind of global financial pressures that have driven pharmaceutical companies to pursue outsourcing and partnerships zealously in their efforts to maximise cost-efficiencies and tap into new capabilities in R&D.

Earlier this year the third annual G-FINDER survey of funding for R&D into neglected diseases, conducted by research group Policy Cures and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, reported that in 2009 there was a US$50 million drop in funding for PDPs, with the focus shifting towards traditional basic research.

Investment in PDPs fell by 8.6% in 2009 against the previous year, while basic research funding was up by 21%, Policy Cures noted.