OneWorld Health

Why do drug companies strive to produce erectile dysfunction drugs instead of anti-malaria drugs? Because the former is more profitable. After all, drug companies are profit seeking organizations. Right?

Enter OneWorld Health, the first nonprofit drug developer. Through partnerships, like this one with drug giant Roche, OneWorld Health gains access to drug compounds that may be helpful in combating “neglected diseases” (those diseases that affect many people, but which are unprofitable to develop drugs for – ie. they affect people who cannot pay enough for the drugs to make them profitable).

For-profit drug companies can let OneWorld Health search their collections of chemical compounds in search of possible medicines for neglected diseases or if a drug company has an indentified compound they can donate it to OneWorld Health for development.

Of course, another model would be for drug companies to set up “dot-org” divisions akin to to create drugs for neglected diseases and chalk up the costs as part of their corporate philanthropy. But without the internal motivation to put a dot-org model in place, it seems to me that having OneWorld Health operate as an external dot-org works better because rather than relying on the drug companies to take action, OneWorld Health has a mission focused motivation to make things happen.

Jed Emerson argues in his Blended Value thesis that all organizations produce a blend of financial and social value. Maybe organizations like OneWorld Health can identify situations, like neglected diseases, where for-profit players are letting social value lay dormant due to low levels of associated financial value and work with the for-profit players to “liberate” this social value?

OneWorld Health is an organization to watch not simply for their own efforts, but to see whether a dot-org model can be brought to the for-profit sector rather than waiting on them to embrace Google’s lead.


  1. Nathaniel says:

    Hey Sean,

    Good catch. OWH is definitely one of the organization’s I watch. There’s some really interesting movement in big pharma, which I wrote about here:

    Most of my health-focused friends are actually pretty impressed, surprised and hopeful with this, so we’ll see what comes..

  2. Nice post. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    What are some other areas where independent nonprofits could create synthetic dot-org models in partnership with for-profits?

  3. Nathaniel says:

    It’s an interesting question. I mean I guess it would come to the question of whether there are Research and Development shops that come across technologies that seem promising for places where there just isn’t a market to produce high costs and low returns. This is where Paul Polak/IDE type groups come in..

  4. Disclaimer: I’m just thinking out loud here…

    So, especially the “new” model, leverages the “R&D” of their engineers for good. The Flu Tracker is a good example. We know that Pharma companies have socially valuable knowledge that lays dormant.

    It seems to me that the key is when the item of value is information. This can be freely transfered. So if the information can be exploited for profit it will, but if it can only be exploited for social good, it should be transfered to a nonprofit.

    This aligns with the reason why I’m so passionate about foundations sharing information. Doing so allows more capital to exploit the information.

    So I guess you’d have to look at industries where information is the competitive advantage and a significant degree of social good is produced: medicine is obvious. But I’m not sure what else.

  5. Shahee says:

    Drugs are not the answer. Non, nourish the body, help it detox, or achieve and equilibrium also known as homeostatic balance. Health = homeostasis in balance. dis-ease is simply, out of ease. It’s even built right into our language.