Global collaboration needed to fight neglected diseases

Only 3.8 per cent of drugs approved between 2000 and 2011 were for neglected diseases such as leishmaniasis Copyright: Flickr/ CDC

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Developed countries and emerging economies must join forces to support research into new drugs for neglected diseases, according to research by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi).

Their study, presented at a conference last month (13 December), found that only 3.8 per cent of drugs approved between 2000 and 2011 were for neglected diseases, such as sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease, which in total account for more than ten per cent of the global disease burden.


  • Developed and developing nations must collaborate to create new drugs against neglected tropical diseases
  • Only 1.4 per cent of clinical studies focus on these diseases, but they cause 11 per cent of all illness
  • Long-term, innovative funding and the removal of regulatory blocks are needed

This "fatal imbalance" must be addressed by governments developing a framework to finance research and development (R&D) and stimulate medical innovation, the organisations say.

"In the last decade, there has been some progress in drug development for neglected diseases, but not enough has been done," says Bernard Pécoul, executive director of DNDi. "Only 1.4 per cent of total clinical studies are dedicated to neglected diseases, but they make up 11 per cent of the global disease burden."

Neglected diseases are most prevalent in Africa, Brazil and India, and often have the greatest impact on the poorest people, he says.

"What is needed is more commitment from the affected countries to respond to the needs of their populations," Pécoul says. He lists Brazil, China and India as countries that have sufficient resources and says they should be setting up a sustainable way of financing such research and making the regulatory environment more amenable to delivering new drugs for neglected diseases.

But he adds that such countries also need financial support from developed countries with strong R&D in the sector — support that is currently lacking.

The French government recently announced that a proportion of its new financial transaction tax will go towards global health R&D, which could generate an estimated US$2 billion a year. MSF and DNDi welcomed the move.

"Sustainable funding is key for research and development," Pécoul says. "To be sure that we’ll have a new drug or vaccine in the future, we need ten years of investment, so France’s mechanism is an excellent initiative."

Pécoul adds: "We hope other EU countries will follow suit and place drug development high on the agenda, but we also need strong support from regulatory authorities to help stimulate and streamline the development of new products for neglected diseases".

Policy Cures, an independent group providing research and analysis into drugs for neglected diseases, also called for more funding and better cooperation between developed and developing countries in a September report on EU investment in neglected diseases.

Javier Guzman, its director of research, tells SciDev.Net that novel funding tools like the financial transaction tax are needed.

"Neglected diseases R&D can’t rely on a few funders or traditional financing mechanisms such as aid funding. Other avenues should be explored," he says.

He says that each developed country should put at least 0.01 per cent of its GDP towards research into these diseases, as suggested in a WHO report last year, and that endemic countries must also participate in this global effort.

Link to the Policy Cures report

Link to the WHO report