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An Interview with Dr. Dennis Mitchison: Part Two 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 of our series]

In part two of our three part series on Dr. Mitchison, we cover the state of research and development for new TB drugs, as well as the impact that increased regulation has had on progress:

In general are you encouraged by efforts in modern drug development?

Not all that encouraged, no. I think the problem is that the whole business of regulation has gotten completely out of hand and is now threatening to stop the whole progress of medicine. I think we face a completely catastrophic situation in regard to regulation. I’ve actually published a short article on this on the web in an organization called Open Democracy.

The article points out that the regulators and the ethicists are the biggest people doing damage to other people throughout the world. They think they are protecting people; they’re in fact responsible often for their illness or their death. This is a huge moral problem in my view because the people who push for regulation think they do it for good motives to protect the patient and they don’t realize how much damage they’re doing at the same time.

So if you want something that is really important, it’s not so much the development of new drugs, it’s how one can possibly cope with a situation that is bringing medicine to a halt.

What other obstacles exist in the pursuit of new TB drugs?

The other problem is that the whole business of drug development is in the hands of large bureaucratic bodies that are not very flexible. I think these bureaucracies are doing a lot of damage in the way they behave. They are very secretive about what they do and they are getting stuck in this quagmire of regulation like everybody else.

We somehow have got to break away from this. And if there is one message I would like extend its that we must do something about excessive regulation. It costs lives.

How do you think that industry and academia could work together better to advance TB R&D or deal with the regulatory problems?

I think industry and academia do work very well together. There used to be a great problem but I think this is much less of a problem today.

Admittedly, a lot of the regulation exists because of the need to license new drugs. But the severity of the process of regulation — that is perhaps necessary for licensing and even then I think it’s overdone — is now being applied to purely academic projects. It’s a disaster.

I have extremely friendly relations with people in pharmaceutical firms. Of course, they have limitations on what they can do because firms must make a profit. But on the development side, most people aim to do a good job of work in whatever their project they do. I think they get much maligned actually. I think they are one of the critical assets that we have.

So in general I don’t think that communication between academia and industry is a big problem now. I think it exists and it’s beneficial.

But there is a problem of course in funding. I mean, you know, funding is just going through the roof, the cost of trials. It’s just becoming totally impossible. It’s becoming impossible for the pharmaceutical firms as well as for academia…

Stay tuned to hear more from Dr. Dennis Mitchison on the state of funding for new TB drugs…

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