One doctor’s outrage at the sole treatment for Human African Trypanosomiasis during his time with Doctors Without Borders led to an effort to create patent-free drugs to escape the grip of big pharmaceutical companies.
Dr. Bernard Pecoul and Doctors Without Borders in 2003 funneled money from its 1999 Nobel Peace Prize award to fund an initiative called the Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative (DNDI). DNDI sought to eliminate driving forces in modern drug manufacturing such as profits, pricing and research costs.
“It fell to Pecoul to recruit partners, including private pharmaceutical companies he persuaded to share drug compounds that had been uncovered but abandoned because of lack of profitability,” Fran Quigley writes in a column on the New York Times.
Through those joint efforts and some government funding, DNDI has developed seven patent-free treatments for neglected diseases. One such drug, for which DNDI and drugmaker Sanofi partnered to develop, was distributed to some 500 million adults and children at less than $1 per patient.
“Bernard is able to combine the role of a sometimes aggressive challenger with a personal style that is likable,” Sanofi Vice President for Access to Medicines Dr. Francois Bommpart said. “He is offended by situations that are unfair, but he has established DNDI as a credible partner with the private sector.”