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Medical researchers have appealed to world leaders to increase funding for research into drugs and vaccines against the 'neglected diseases' that primarily affect the poor in developing countries.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) launched its appeal on 8 June at a meeting in London, United Kingdom. It launched simultaneous appeals in Brazil, Canada, France, India, Kenya, Malaysia and Switzerland.

Supporters of the appeal include Médicins Sans Frontières, scientists, and non-governmental workers.

DNDi called for stronger political leadership and new approaches to address the shortage of investment in research on neglected diseases. DNDi members explained that at present, large pharmaceutical companies, which require a substantial market for a new drug, do most of the research.

But if the financial lure is no longer there, the project for a new drug comes to a halt, said Helen Lee, from the Diagnostic Development Unit at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

DNDi campaign image
Photo: DNDi

Lee told the launch meeting that several promising compounds, especially those that could help people in developing countries, languish "in the research and development graveyards of large pharmaceutical companies".

DNDi's executive director Bernard Pécoul said that efforts to find drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases, such as those of public-private partnerships including DNDi, are not enough.

An extra US$3 billion is needed every year to study such diseases, which include leishmaniasis and Chagas disease, said Pécoul.

Tido von Schoen-Angerer, of Médicins Sans Frontières, said governments need to "create radically different funding mechanisms that address this imbalance".

He added that the call for more political leadership from rich countries was not a request for charity.

Lee agreed, adding that rich countries should be acting out of self-interest as much as philanthropy. She said that HIV sub-types once seen only in Africa are now appearing in developed countries too, spread by immigration and increased global travel.

John Sulston, former director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, echoed the importance of tackling neglected diseases worldwide, adding that universal healthcare was not a vain hope, "but a goal that is critical to the future of us all".

"It will require collective leadership by governments to take the next step, and the forthcoming meeting of the G8 is an excellent place to start," he said.

DNDi plans to present a petition supporting its appeal, signed by high profile scientists and aid workers, at the WHO's annual World Health Assembly next year.

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