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U.N. and drug makers to pool data on tropical diseases

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GENEVA » Eight drug makers have agreed to create a U.N.-administered pool of patented information and other data to spur new research into 21 tropical diseases and ailments, industry and U.N. officials said Wednesday.

The collaborative database will include data drawn from patents, compounds and unpublished results and made available to qualified researchers through royalty-free licenses, said Francis Gurry, director general of the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization.

Gurry told a news conference that eight drug makers — Alnylam, AstraZeneca, Eisai, GlaxoSmithKline, MSD, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi — and numerous academic and nonprofit research organizations will cooperate.

It’s intended mainly to benefit developing nations in their fight against malaria, tuberculosis and 19 tropical diseases and other health conditions that the U.N. considers "neglected" such as dengue fever, leprosy, rabies and snakebite.

Some of the mechanics of patent sharing, data protection and other details remain to be worked out.

"This is only the start," said Gurry, flanked by AstraZeneca chief executive David Brennan, who also is head of the pharmaceutical industry’s global trade group in Geneva, and several industry and African officials. "We haven’t answered all the questions."

AstraZeneca and Alnylam are making all their patents available. For AstraZeneca, Brennan said that applies to 1,400 "patent families" and more than 25,000 individual patents, even including drugs in the early stages of development.

Brennan said pharmaceutical companies sometimes spend $2 billion to $3 billion to bring a new drug to market, yet it makes sense for them to join a collaborative project that can help address "unmet medical needs" in developing countries.

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