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Popular Roscigno to stay on in senior’ role
The Global Alliance for TB Drug Development handed a surprise to the international TB community last month. Giorgio Roscigno, MD, the popular and widely respected acting chief executive officer of the alliance, will be replaced by Maria C. Freire, PhD, veteran of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD.
Despite the word "acting" before his title, Roscigno had widely been presumed to be permanently in his position. Higher-ups in the organization spent some time smoothing feathers ruffled by the announcement of his departure from the top post, giving assurances that Roscigno would stay on in "a senior position." Specifics of that arrangement are reportedly still being worked out.
Freire, who is to assume her duties on the 15th of this month, is said to have turned up on "a short list "of prospects recruited by a headhunter firm engaged by the alliance. A native of Peru, Freire is notably well-versed in the intricacies of intellectual property rights, a skill sure to come in handy at her new job. That’s because along with trying to pick potential "hit" drugs and nurture them into development, the alliance needs to acquire and retain intellectual property rights. Doing so is the only way it can make sure new drugs become available at prices resource-poor countries can afford.
Roscigno has a different strength: his long career in and ties to the pharmaceutical industry, where he oversaw the development of drugs with important public-health applications, including rifapentine.
Assuming Roscigno stays on, the pairing of his skills with those of Freire will make for a formidable combination, says Jim Kim, MD, PhD, executive director of Boston-based Partners in Health. "Freire is one of a handful of people
in the world who really understand the issues around the movement of intellectual property between the private and public sectors," says Kim. "That complements very well Roscigno’s knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry."
Well-known on the Hill
At the NIH, Freire (whose name is pronounced to rhyme with "fair") headed the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT). She took the OTT, which had been suffering from poor management as well as laboring under the threat of governmental sanctions, and reshaped it into a respected economic powerhouse, with strong visibility on Capitol Hill. During the stem-cell research debate, Freire was frequently called upon to testify.
The OTT’s mission is to make sure NIH scientists and academics who develop intellectual property are reimbursed for their work, if and when it bears fruit as a commercially viable pharmaceutical product.
According to Kim, Freire’s real challenge at the TB alliance will be to develop what Kim calls "creative agreements" around intellectual property, ensuring that companies which develop drugs with public-health applications agree to give poor countries a break.