As devastating infections overtake inhabitants of the poorest nations, a new company called Candid Pharmaceuticals plans to form a consortium focused on getting effective therapies to the people who need it.
Candid is the latest brainchild of New York-based Bioaccelerate Holdings Inc., a company formed about two and a half years ago with private capital to fund selective pharmaceutical projects in the cancer field. Since then, the business has invested in portfolio companies focused on early stage products for oncology, central nervous system, cardiovascular, infection and inflammatory indications, as well as specialty pharmaceutical products in the areas of dermatitis and sexual health.
As a Bioaccelerate subsidiary, Candid will focus on developing and commercializing drugs for emerging and neglected diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis, Leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, African sleeping sickness and respiratory infections. Efforts by governments, private aid organizations, academia and the pharmaceutical industry largely have been unsuccessful to date.
"With Candid, we will start with others to form a pharmaceutical company consortium that will work with WHO and other government organizations," said Bruce Murdoch, Candid's acting CEO and the senior vice president for anti-infectives and anti-inflammatories for Bioaccelerate.
The challenge is to find a way to fund research for fields that are not the most profitable, and to study drugs that are not the easiest to develop. Many infectious diseases run rampant but then hide, making it difficult to conduct clinical studies, as pharmaceutical companies have trouble gaining access to patients. There also are ethical concerns of putting dying patients on placebo when an investigational treatment could help them. Many companies have steered clear of the field because of the challenges involved.
"It's so easy to criticize the industry and say they haven't put enough money into these kinds of diseases," Murdoch said. "Many of these diseases are very difficult in the traditional way of developing drugs to do the kinds of trials necessary to satisfy the FDA, EMEA and other agencies."
What's required is a change of perspective if there is any hope of obliterating those infections. Candid will investigate scientific projects within academic settings and fund them in collaboration with public and charitable organizations. The company's investors more than likely will be philanthropists who expect smaller returns than they would from a more traditional large-market company.
"Most research-based pharmaceutical companies do not see the point of trying to dedicate scientists to do this work where there is fundamentally no market," Murdoch said. "There's a market, but nobody can pay for it."
The diseases threaten the economic survival of destitute countries, as well as the growth and development of other countries. The problem came to light during the recent Milken Institute Global Conference 2005 in Los Angeles, in which Bioaccelerate formed a panel of experts to discuss the issue. The participants agreed that international efforts have failed to address the challenges of emerging infectious diseases and that something needed to be done.
"All of these diseases have something that has been used in the past, but a lot of the treatments have been very toxic and not very successful," Murdoch said.
Candid currently has a New York headquarters, but is very much a virtual company, as is Bioaccelerate's other subsidiaries. In addition to Murdoch, who is based in London, there are about a half-dozen employees working on the company's first project from Germany, and two other projects from the U.S. soon will begin. Most of the work is done in Africa and Asia and is focused in the area of HIV, hepatitis C, Leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. Murdoch said Candid will add to its staff as new projects begin.
"We do not try to waste a lot of resources by building ivory towers with lots of people in them because every drop of money we raise we want to put into the project," he said.
Bioaccelerate holds majority equity interests in 10 biopharmaceutical companies, including Candid, as well as minority interests in four others. Its first portfolio company, New York-based Bioenvision Inc., has gone public and is now independently managed. Another of its companies, New York-based Enhance Biotech Inc., recently merged with Ardent Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Durham, Calif.
The company's strategy is to identify projects in the preclinical or early development phase and develop them through proof of concept using its various portfolio companies.
"They are designed to sort of spread the risk of this pharmaceutical development chain," Murdoch said, "because inherently the earlier the project, the more risky it is."
Once a Bioaccelerate company proves something works, the project is licensed out for Phase III work. Bioaccelerate retains value through milestone payments and a royalty stream.
Candid's name is meant to represent the company's down-to-earth, no-frills approach to drug development. The company hopes to convene a meeting with the World Health Organization in Geneva this year, along with other invited parties, to figure out a plan for advancing research and development and designing a regulatory system that will approve the products efficiently.
In no way does Candid intend to decry the efforts of large pharmaceutical companies that have done work in the area of infectious disease, but the company does recognize the need to pull together resources.
"We are not trying to change the world," Murdoch said. "We're a tiny little thing that has just started. It's a germ of an idea."
Bioaccelerate's stock (OTC BB:BACLE) closed at $6 Monday, unchanged.