Australian not-for-profit wins unprecedented approval for blindness drug


Managing director Mark Sullivan said while FDA approval for the company’s drug, moxidectin, was a “momentous achievement” for any pharma company, it was “a particularly rare and exciting event” for those trying to treat neglected diseases.

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The FDA gave its approval for the treatment, which is swallowed as a tablet, in June after the application was submitted in October 2017.

Mr Sullivan established the Melbourne-based not-for-profit company in 2005 with the sole purpose of filling the gap left by the big pharmaceutical companies by developing medicines that were based on need for treatment rather than the patients’ ability to afford them.

Medicines Development for Global Health has been working for five years on the development of the drug and is now planning to develop moxidectin as a new treatment for scabies, a common problem in Indigenous communities.

Priority review voucher

The company has also won a priority review voucher under a scheme set up in 2007 to create a financial incentive to reward drug makers willing to spend the time and money developing treatments for the some of the world’s most neglected diseases. The scheme creates a market for making new drugs that the private market was not filling itself.

Under the scheme, a company that wins a voucher gets a fast track through the FDA for consideration of its  next new drug,  even if it’s a treatment that would have a commercial return. This gives it a head-start over rivals.

Crucially, a company can also sell the voucher to a bigger company willing to pay anywhere between $US100 million and $300 million for the right to almost halve the approval time.

Because Medicines Development for Global Health is a not-for-profit, its proceeds from drug sales and the voucher will be reinvested in the company to develop new drugs for other neglected diseases.

“Our plan is to sell the voucher and use the funds to support further development of moxidectin for other neglected diseases but also to expand our portfolio into other medicines and vaccines,” Mr Sullivan said.

Professor David Ridely from Duke University authored the scheme and said Medicines Development for Global Health was a textbook example of how he envisaged the program would work.

“I’m delighted that the voucher program is playing a role in treating patients with river blindness, and one day eliminating the disease,” he said.

Mr Sullivan said the development of moxidectin could not have been possible without a $US13 million co-investment from the Global Health Investment Fund, which is the social impact investment fund initially structured by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

”We believe moxidectin can play a pivotal role in eventually eradicating river blindness, and look forward to working with MDGH and others in making this happen,” Curt LaBelle, managing partner at the investment fund, said. 

Latika Bourke is a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age based in London. She has previously worked for Fairfax Media, the ABC and 2UE in Canberra. Latika won the Walkley Award for Young Australian Journalist of the Year in 2010.

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