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A Non-Profit Drug Company: Fact, Not Fantasy

I'm one of growing number of physicians and layman who are working hard every day to chisel away at a long established health care paradigm that seeks to cure virtually everything under the sun regardless of the long-term consequences with drugs. Among many things, that means mega-billion pharmaceutical companies developing multiple iterations of the same drugs for the same conditions just to protect their marketshare.

With that in mind, I was greatly impressed with an interview I read today about Victoria Hale, an ex-FDA employee, who is doing her own part to overturn the health care nightmare, but from a completely different angle than mine. Four years ago, she formed the nation's first non-profit drug company, Institute for OneWorld Health.

Hale got the idea when she began to learn about all the "orphan diseases" -- maladies suffered by less than 200,000 in the U.S. -- as a FDA administrator. She became particularly disillusioned "by the movement of the health industry into lifestyle issues such as impotence, baldness and memory loss was a real signal to me. I did not get my PhD to work on these issues knowing that there were huge diseases out there that very few people were working on. There were people working in global health, but they had so few resources and they didn't have a drug company. There was no new drug R&D for the diseases of the world's poorest people."

As far as why America needed a non-profit drug company, Hale says, "But we are not doing this for Americans. We're using technology that otherwise will just sit on a shelf to benefit others around the world. I'm very proud to be a pharmaceutical scientist and I love my industry, I just think the world needs a new model to get to some of the poorest people, and those that have the most need. We founded the company to develop drugs for diseases that other companies never would."

As far as compassion in the for-profit pharmaceutical industry goes, Hale does see such evidence at the R&D level. By the same token, however, the drug industry as a whole is creating far more programs designed to improve the quality of life than with saving lives any more, Hale says. "But I have spoken to many scientists, physicians and other professionals in the industry who say, 'I didn't think it would be like this. I wanted to be working on something that could change the world.'"

New Scientist.com September 27, 2004

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