Voucher Program Attracts Financial Interest

A federal incentive program designed by Fuqua professors to spur the development of drugs for rare or neglected diseases has found its first bigticket impact investor. The Global Health Investment Fund (GHIF) announced in March a $10 million investment in a nonprofit pharmaceutical company to register a new treatment for river blindness, a devastating disease that affects more than 37 million people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Once the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves this drug, the company will receive what’s known as a priority-review voucher. The voucher provides expedited FDA review of a highly profitable drug in exchange for the development of a treatment for a disease like river blindness that can’t otherwise attract enough research and development funding.

The brainchild of David Ridley, Dr. and Mrs. Frank A. Riddick Associate Professor of the Practice, and colleagues Jeff Moe and Henry Grabowski, the program allows a voucher to be sold—for millions of dollars—to another pharmaceutical company that might want to grease the wheels of FDA approval for its newest blockbuster drug.

GHIF plans to do just that: It will sell its voucher and funnel the windfall into yet another global-health initiative, so that the impact of its initial investment is doubled— maybe even tripled— over time.

“This is exactly what we had in mind when we proposed the voucher,” says Ridley of the program, which became legalized in 2007. “It creates a virtuous cycle in which the success of one drug leads to the resources to fund another.”

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