The 'innovation gap' for neglected tropical diseases is rapidly growing, say Sandeep P. Kishore and colleagues, but research universities in the United States could help close the gap.
Total research funding for diabetes is more than 15 times greater than that for malaria, and more than 100 times that of other diseases such as schistosomiasis.
The authors suggest three key steps to making a meaningful impact on neglected disease research.
First, universities should set up new funds to promote neglected disease research, training and education. These would vary in size across universities but could be used to support laboratories through student fellowships, promote product development partnerships and finance innovative projects in the spirit of the Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations.
Second, universities should eliminate intellectual property barriers around neglected disease research. There is already some progress in this area — for example, a plan announced last year by six US universities to ensure global access to low-cost treatments resulting from university innovations.
Third, universities must establish new performance indicators that value neglected disease research to reward their staff. This means replacing traditional measures of high-impact publications authored and grants received with alternatives such as the number of disability-adjusted life years saved.