Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
In 2013, Forbes estimated that the cost a pharmaceutical company could expect to pay in order to see a single experimental drug move from research to market was upwards of $350 million dollars. This staggering amount is coupled with the fact that 95% of all experimental medicines are found to be ineffective and / or unsafe for human use. This means that in 95% of cases, pharmaceutical companies will not recoup their financial investment.
Yet, financial investments from pharmaceutical companies are only a one aspect of the mult-layered drug discovery process. Research and discovery firms as well as scientists and professors are integral to the discovery process. Much of the process starts with identification of a gene or protein within the human body that can be acted on or inhibited in order to treat an illness. These genes and proteins are often identified and investigated by scientists, researchers and professors housed at academic institutions, who themselves invest great financial, intellectual, and human resources into the discovery process. For example, Princeton University reports managing more than 250 million research dollars annually, highlighting that the vast majority of sponsored research is a result of faculty initiated projects.
With such colossal costs at stake, divergences of priorities can inhibit innovation. On the academic side, faculty members within academic institutions are competing to secure research dollars as well as coveted tenure positions. They may therefore choose more low-risk career options or decide to focus their expertise on areas that are of more interest to the private industry funders. On the private sector side, funder bias in research is very present; 75% of US clinical trials are paid by the private sector, and private pharmaceutical companies are inherently motivated to focus on highly specific projects that promise to maximize profit in order to recoup large financial investments.
In both academia and the private sector, the high stakes lead to working in silos. Top companies compete to be the first to identify and patent a new drug, with no incentive to share findings, strategies, or data with their industry competitors. Academic institutions are also burdened by competition with many universities even modeling themselves after their private sector counterparts. As a result, bureaucratic processes end up playing a significant role in the discovery of a cure; months and in some cases years are added to the process to work out patenting rights and profit distributions of a cure that may never work. Patients test potential cures for one company that have already been proven by another company to not work. In the end, the intent of the discovery process becomes overshadowed by the way in which it is administered. The unfortunate side effect is that an entire sector becomes criticized for practices for which there are no other alternatives available.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Transforming the way new drugs are discovered, Aled Edwards is re-imagining the public-private partnership model in order to produce an unprecedented system of open source research. Influencing all levels of the discovery chain, Aled is eliminating expensive redundancies and secretive practices through cross-sectoral collaboration. The result is a reversal of the current status quo in one of the world’s most expensive industries.
Aled is driven by the vision that the cures for many of the world’s most pressing illnesses are within this generation’s reach. He is realizing his vision by employing a social enterprise approach to drug research and development that promotes the sharing of formally proprietary information in a “no strings attached” manner. To support his approach, Aled has assembled and energized a global network of academics and researchers, backed by an alliance of top international pharmaceutical companies. Together, Aled’s network is unlocking pharmaceutical science faster, cheaper, and with more accessibility at the patient level.
Aled is also restructuring the historically complex financial models that are inhibitory to innovation, into a simpler funding strategy that leverages public, private, and academic resources. This is creating the conditions for more entrepreneurial practices within the drug discovery process, leading to more efficient distribution of resources through non-competitive strategic partnerships. Threading together the multiple layers of the drug discovery process in order to identify and rectify the blockages at every step, Aled’s work is through partnerships with multinational companies and universities from Canada to the United Kingdom, who have already changed how they find new drugs, Aled’s work has already transcended continental scale.