Monday, July 12, 2004

Not Big Pharma; Good Pharma 

We don't often run inspirational stories because we don't often find inspirational stories (The world is poor/ And man's a shit/ And that is all/ There is to it, as the Peachum girls used to say), so we are inordinately pleased to bring you this S.F. Chronicle profile of Victoria Hale, who has undertaken a wholly admirable project with a big fat infusion of moolah from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:
Hale is telling me something that is difficult to fathom: that a pharmaceutical enterprise she founded four years ago is a nonprofit drug company.

In these days of 17 percent annual profit margins for the drug industry, it's almost holy writ that huge profits are required for a company to attract the billions of dollars from investors needed to develop and market new drugs. Or so say the drug companies.

Yet here comes Hale saying that her company set out in 2000 to develop a full pipeline of drug research and development in an enterprise that not only will generate zero profits but also will develop and sell drugs in developing regions of the world for the diseases of the poor.

These are treatments and vaccines for maladies such as malaria and diarrhea shunned by Big Pharma companies that prefer to bring to market billion-dollar blockbusters to treat first-world ills such as erectile dysfunction, depression, high cholesterol and leukemia.

OneWorld's aim is to acquire meds that are either off-patent -- meaning that the company that originally invented them no longer has an exclusive claim -- or were shelved by a biotech or Big Pharma company as unprofitable.

By keeping costs down and, if possible, finding markets for some drugs in the West, Hale's long-term strategy is to earn extra revenue that can be turned back over to the company. She and her husband, Ahvie Hersowitz, a cardiologist and OneWorld's chief operating officer and chief medical officer, hope this will make the company self-sustaining by 2010 . . . .

Hale says she got the jolt she needed to start OneWorld while riding in a taxi in New York. When the West African driver asked what she did, Hale said she was a pharmaceutical scientist. "You guys make all of the money," he said. "And then he laughed deep and heartily," she remembers. "His honest laughter was suddenly painful, like a knife in my soul.

"At that moment, I decided to launch OneWorld Health. What could I possibly be waiting for?"
N.B.: The writer of the story at one point in his argument adduces "Wild Thing," but then feels compelled to explain the reference for those who might be puzzled by it ("the only hit single by the forgettable group the Troggs"). Forgive him.

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