Pandemic Response Box: Responding to a Potential Global Medical Emergency

Researchers will have free access to 400 diverse drug-like molecules active against neglected diseases. Discovery of new treatments for pandemics must be accelerated


The Pandemic Response Box is a comprehensive set of antibacterial, antivirals or antifungal compounds, selected by experts to be tested against emerging infectious diseases.

Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) have launched the Pandemic Response Box, one among several open-access scientific projects, developed to stimulate collaboration and transparency in research for drug development. In practice, this means that researchers around the world will be able to access compounds free of charge and without any kind of intellectual property restriction. The goal is to reduce the time between the emergence of a new pandemic and the availability of new drugs to treat it. As a counterpart to receiving free pharmaceutical molecules, researchers around the world are committed to publicly disclosing the test results and publishing them in open access scientific journals within two years of the production of the data. In the case of promising results, MMV and DNDi can provide guidance, support and an additional amount of compounds to help further the research, explains DNDis Discovery Manager, Jadel Müller Kratz.

The Pandemic Response Box is a collection of structurally diverse antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal compounds selected by experts to be tested against causative agents of emerging infectious diseases and pandemics. The compounds are in various stages of pharmaceutical research and development. The distribution provides a minimum selection to define which research groups will have access to the box and must consider the total number of requests and the quality of the submitted projects, says Kratz. According to him, the idea is to focus on new infectious diseases or emerging infectious diseases. Since these compounds already have a mapped biological profile, the general interest of the project is to be tested against new diseases or in those in which these compounds have not been tested (e.g. zika, chikungunya, dengue, Ebola, bacterial diseases with identified resistance, mycetoma, among others) so that open data of interest to the community can be generated.

In addition to the in vitro data, some of these compounds also have proof of concept in animal models for some diseases, preclinical data generated and/or even clinical stages. That is, part of the chain necessary for drug development, regardless of the therapeutic indication, has already been performed, which accelerates the process. Many of the new infections do not yet have models available to test new compounds in the early stages of discovery, so as new epidemics arise and research groups develop and validate models for compound screening, this step, which is often a bottleneck, will now be available through the Pandemic Response Box, with a collection of fairly complete compounds with chemical diversity, mode of action and targets that can serve as starting points for a compound optimization process, decision-making and progression and even a candidate, says Kratz.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the world has faced multiple epidemics, both old and new, caused by viruses and bacteria. Some of them reached pandemic proportions. The outbreak of the Zika virus in the Americas in 2015-2016, for example, has demonstrated how a relatively obscure mosquito-borne disease can become a global medical emergency. The Pandemic Response Box was conceived as a response to the need to prepare ourselves for a future global medical emergency. The emergence and spread of drug-resistant pathogens have increased the frequency and severity of epidemics, posing a significant threat to the worlds population. Experts estimate, for example, that the number of deaths linked to drug-resistant micro-organisms will reach 10 million per year by 2050.

Open access science

Open science is crucial to mobilize the potential for the discovery of new drugs and harness existing knowledge to launch new research initiatives. The Pandemic Response Box, for example, will allow researchers to have free access to 400 compounds, which should accelerate the discovery of new treatments for lethal pandemics. However, the production of science and the attainment of knowledge imply a high cost. According to Kratz, the relationship between open science and the reduction of the costs of drug development requires a broad analysis, since this is one of the central components of a whole scientific system that today is very much based on publications and peer reviews. Since research is funded with public investments, especially in the case of neglected diseases, it is critical that all the knowledge generated by it be made available to the community as quickly as possible, increasing the chances that this innovation will reach society, patients and that it really has an impact on peoples lives, he emphasizes.

Kratz is emphatic in stating that in a scenario where resources are restricted, as with neglected tropical diseases, or emerging or reemerging infectious diseases, it is necessary that the information and knowledge generated, as in the case of the Pandemic Response Box, where all data will be available in an open way to the scientific community, can contribute to the search for new strategies, to make decisions, for example, about which compound can actually become the medicine. In addition, opening the data can help avoid duplication of results, and also prevent search results from ending up in drawers and optimize the time for publication of studies, which now require a long time (up to two years) to be published in magazines that charge for access. Factors like these can delay the development of a new drug, he says.

In a scenario of reduced investments to treat neglected tropical diseases, it is imperative that the scientific community raise their flag and cover robust investments for research continuity as well as new initiatives, such as the Pandemic Response Box. Besides this, it is necessary to encourage that data is effectively distributed, shared and that guide decision-making and new research projects so that the fastest possible drug is reached that it is truly affordable, safe, effective and meets the needs of patients, says Kratz.

Finally, the R&D manager points out that the open nature of the Pandemic Response Box is aligned with a strong global movement that aims at the expansion of free access to scientific information, avoiding charging for information, especially when public funding is available, and much in the case of emerging infectious diseases and neglected tropical diseases. Open access innovation is transforming drug discovery. Open access is the future for science because it represents how science evolves quickly, affordably, and cost-effectively. Open access also allows other sectors such as industry, the market and governments themselves to have access to scientific information that can assist in new public policies and technologies.

For more information, visit the Pandemic Response Box .…