The Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) was founded by immunologist Steve Reed in 1993 as a nonprofit global health research center dedicated to applying advances in immunology to the development of products to prevent, detect, and treat neglected diseases. The institute was distinguished by its emphasis on the practical end goal of getting its products to market. To accomplish this, IDRI drew on the distinct competencies of diverse collaboration partners, including for-profit life science companies, research centers, universities, government organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Under the leadership of CEO H. Stewart Parker, IDRI was focused on eradicating tuberculosis, leishmaniasis, leprosy, malaria and Chagas disease, which together killed more than six million people each year.
To continue realizing positive results in the neglected disease space, IDRI needed a substantial, ongoing stream of funding. However, as a nonprofit, the organization could not tap into traditional funding sources available to private pharmaceutical firms, such as venture capital. IDRI generally relied on grants, but found that the funds were typically designated for a particular development program and had specific underlying rules governing their use. Accordingly, most grant support could not be used to develop IDRI’s infrastructure or to explore new projects that might enhance current research platforms. These funding constraints made sustaining the company challenging and limited its strategic growth. IDRI needed to generate additional revenue streams that would allow its management team more freedom in allocating funds to strategic, forward-looking activities. This mini-case study describes how Reed devised a model to create for-profit development arms to commercialize select IDRI vaccine technologies that had first-world applications, and thus significant profit potential, to help continue funding IDRI’s larger portfolio of projects.
This story is part of the Global Health Innovation Insight Series developed at Stanford University to shed light on the challenges that global health innovators face as they seek to develop and implement new products and services that address needs in resource-constrained settings.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank H. Stewart Parker and Erik Iverson of IDRI for their participation. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant 1 RC4 TW008781-01.