There are nearly 20 neglected tropical diseases that afflict countless people in poor countries across the globe, but developing useful treatments can be an uphill battle when the pharmaceutical industry often emphasizes medicines that are designed to generate large profits. So Mark Sullivan, a former clinical researcher at Gilead Sciences and GlaxoSmithKline, formed a not-for-profit company called Medicines Development for Global Health in his native Australia. With financial backing from a socially minded investment fund and the cooperation of the World Health Organization, he is about to launch a treatment for river blindness that was recently approved by the FDA. The attempt marks a new model for tackling such diseases and, possibly, for other ailments, too. We spoke with him about the effort. This is an edited version of our conversation.
Pharmalot: So you worked in big pharma for many years. What did you do and what prompted you to go down this path?