An Interview with Dr. Dennis Mitchison: Part Three of a Three Part Series

Dr. Denis Mitchison in the lab
Dr. Denis Mitchison in the lab

When you think of true pioneers in research and development for the treatment of infectious diseases, Dr. Dennis Mitchison is sure to come to mind. For more than half a century, Dr. Mitchison has been dedicated to discovering new treatments for tuberculosis. Recently, we had the privilege to chat with Dr. Mitchison to learn more about his life and get his views on tuberculosis and the state of research and development for new TB drugs. [Click here for Part I and here for Part II of our series]

In part three of our three part series on Dr. Mitchison, we cover the state of funding for TB research and drug development:

What is that state of funding for TB drugs and how can we increase it?

The state of funding is that there isn’t enough money to even begin to do the job. It’s got into bureaucratic channels, which I think is a great mistake.

The second thing is that the cost just simply rockets upwards on clinical trials. People make an estimate of how much a trial will cost. There are delays because of all the committees that need to approve a proposal. These proposals enormously increase costs.

For example, at the moment we are running a clinical trial which is running into trouble because of insufficient funding and because of delays due to excessive regulation. It’s an absolutely hopeless situation in my view. We must get rid of excessive regulation. It’s absolutely critical. Otherwise we are sunk – and it won’t just be TB, it’s the whole of medicine.

What actions can people take to help in that cause?

This is a political problem isn’t it? How do you get the excessive regulators to see how much damage they are causing? It’s really a matter of politics rather than the science. There are national politics, national bodies all involved.

A large number of people in the U.K., and not just in TB, but as a field, have just stopped doing any development work because it has become impossible. How are we to make any progress?

Is there anything that the public can do to help?

Yes, the public always can apply political pressure, you see, because we do live in a vaguely democratic system. In the end what does a body like FDA, for instance say if you say you’re over regulating? They say “our job is to protect the public from exploitation.’’ But, it’s an entirely one-sided point of view. The public has to encourage governments to look at it the issue more broadly. A lot of these regulatory bodies are beginning to realize what the problem is. I don’t think I’m the only person saying this now.

The Working Group on New Drugs thanks Dr. Denis Mitchison for sharing his valuable insights. To learn more about Dr. Mitchison, his work to eradicate TB and his position on the state of drug regulation, please read his article recently published on Open Democracy. You can join the fight to stop TB by increasing your awareness of the epidemic and supporting research efforts worldwide.

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