Updated on 4 May 2012
Paul Herrling, Chairman of the board - Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases
Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD) is a public-private partnership between Novartis and the Singapore Economic Development Board and involves more than 100 international scientists in Singapore. NITD conducts R&D for major tropical diseases and provides teaching and training for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, building capacity to address medical challenges in the developing world.
Why is it difficult to tackle Tuberculosis?
TB is particularly difficult for two reasons. The first reason is that you have to do several combinations of tests. You need to conduct several series of tests with diffirent compounds and see which one works out. The second reason is that the duration of the treatment is very long. You have to wait for many years for the clinical studies to give a result.
And during this time you need to follow the patients, sequence the bugs and support the patients, which is extremelly expensive. Since we are a commercial organization, we have decided that although we can allocate large funds to drug discovery to make new drugs, we cannot afford as a commercial organization to pay hundreds of millions in an area when there will be no returns.
What are your main objectives?
We want to contribute to new drugs that would be effective specifically on those bacteria that have become resistant. That is the first key goal of this Institute. The second goal is to shorten the treatmetn duration. There are a few drugs being developed by certain partners of the TB Alliance. These drugs will work on resistance as they have a new mechanism, but we dont know if they will be able to shorten the treatment.
How has your drug development journey been until now?
Our researchers not only try to develop drugs that work against resistance but develop drugs which would reduce the duration of treatment. Usually the drug development cycles take 50 years from the moment you select the target until you have a drug that you can give to patients after registration. When we started in 2002, TB was neglected in research and we had a very few people working on it.