With New Funding, VCU Professor Continues Research to Lower the Cost of Drugs

Dec 20, 2016

 

Frank Gupton, an engineering professor at VCU, is leading up a team trying to make drugs cheaper for those who need them in developing countries.
Credit VCU School of Engineering

A professor at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Engineering in Richmond has partnered with the Gates Foundation and Clinton Health Access Initiative in research that is drastically lowering the cost of HIV drugs. But as Mallory Noe-Payne reports, his research could help bring down the cost of all drugs. 

 

Frank Gupton used to work for a major pharmaceutical company, so he knows the ins and outs of making drugs. That means he also knows how, often, many drugs that were invented decades ago, could be created for far cheaper today. Gupton says you’d think manufacturer’s would take a look at that, but they don’t. 

“Part of the reason why is in order to get approval from the FDA to produce a generic drug you have to demonstrate equivalency, and equivalency means it works exactly like the innovator work -- the people that originally patented it and developed it -- so they don’t want to change anything, including this process,” explains Gupton.  

In other words, the system disincentivizes manufacturers from figuring out a more efficient way to make their drugs. So that’s where Gupton, now a professor at VCU, has stepped in. Funded by the Gates Foundation, he and his research team are doing that work for manufacturers.

“And when you think about it, over that 20 year period a lot of new chemistry gets developed that hasn’t been applied and we can take that and apply it a new way to make these molecules more cost effectively,” says Gupton.

In one year, they’ve developed a new way to make the active ingredient in an HIV drug. Then, through their partners at the Clinton Health Access Initiative, they handed that technology over to manufacturers in China. 

“Within six months of transferring the technology, then it was implemented in China, we’ve already seen a 20-percent cost reduction in that drug in the marketplace,” says Gupton.

At a cheaper price the Clinton Health Access Initiative can afford to buy more of the drugs, meaning greater access for developing countries.

Now with a new round of funding from the Gates Initiative, bringing their total funding up to almost $15 million, Gupton hopes to put together a plan to replicate his process for additional drugs -- making it cheaper to fight not just AIDS, but tuberculosis, malaria, and more.