2013 Leaders in Health Care, Global Health Organization
Infectious Disease Research Institute
Before IDRI began, there was little interest elsewhere in developing an affordable diagnostic tool for Chagas disease, an insect-borne illness that is one of the major health afflictions in South America. The disease largely affects the poor, and a likely return on investment was low.
That’s the kind of early-stage development the Seattle-based nonprofit biotech company was established 20 years ago to undertake. Its mission of translational research is to turn promising ideas, typically from research done elsewhere, into designs for products that can make a difference, if not a profit.
“We work on neglected diseases,” says IDRI CEO H. Stewart Parker. “It’s much harder [for a for-profit company] to access capital for the kind of products we work on.” Instead, IDRI operates on grants from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.
IDRI’s solution for diagnosing Chagas disease, which required only a simple blood culture, was licensed to Abbott Laboratories for a successful product launch. A similarly easy diagnostic product for leishmaniasis, a disease carried by sandflies, helps screen the blood of American troops returning from the Middle East. A vaccine for leishmaniasis is now in clinical trials, as is as a tuberculosis vaccine that could help slow the growth of drug-resistant forms of the disease.
Even for a for-profit pharmaceutical venture, says Parker, this would be a very good track record. She speaks with some authority, as a former executive with the biotech firm Immunex (now part of Amgen) and founder of Targeted Genetics Corporation. That entrepreneurial spirit, unusual for most global health organizations, serves IDRI’s strategy to partner with industry to distribute solutions.
SIGN Fracture Care International
In countries where people live on $2 a day, a bone fracture can be devastating. Orthopedist Lewis Zirkle founded SIGN (for Surgical Implant Generation Network) in Richland in 1999 to create and provide low-cost implants, and developed with Acumed engineer Randy Huebner an affordable orthopedic nail that can be applied in surgery without the support of high-tech equipment. From its initial trials in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, the SIGN intramedullary nail system is now used in 55 developing countries and has treated more than 100,000 patients.
Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington
Diseases are defeated with data as much as with drugs these days, and in its brief five years, IHME has become a key center for number crunching that improves global health through scientific measurement and analysis. Founded at the UW with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the institute’s research has helped gauge the effectiveness of malaria programs in Zambia, improve influenza vaccination strategies in the United States and track disparities in chronic diseases in King County.