Public-private push against neglected diseases unveiled

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[LONDON] A major public-private initiative to control or eliminate at least ten neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2020 was unveiled in London yesterday (30 January) alongside a WHO roadmap on how to do it.

Non-governmental organisations, aid donors and 13 global drug companies came together, in the largest coordinated effort on NTDs, to back the ‘London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases’.

Almost US$800 million was pledged and new research initiatives were launched at what Margaret Chan, WHO secretary-general, called the "most coordinated initiative" in her 30 years in public health.

The declaration agreed to "sustain, expand and extend" drug supplies to help eradicate Guinea worm disease; to eliminate lymphatic filariasis, leprosy, sleeping sickness and blinding trachoma; and to control schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthes, Chagas disease, visceral leishmaniasis and river blindness (onchocerciasis).

These ten diseases are some of the 17 NTDs that affect more than a billion people globally.

"The WHO believes that, despite the complexity of neglected tropical diseases, the targets are achievable," states the roadmap, ‘Accelerating Work to Overcome the Global Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases’.  

The roadmap sets up a mechanism to track progress towards the 2020 goals, and a scorecard system that will track whether partners are meeting commitments.

Under the new partnership, drug companies will be delivering "five to ten times as much" as before, said Bill Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — which pledged one of the largest amounts of funding. Gates, who helped broker the deal with the drug companies, added that NTDs "have not come down nearly enough".  

Alexandre Lourenço Jaime Manguele, health minister of Mozambique, whose government aims to treat 27 million people by 2015, said: "The support of donors and donation of much-needed drugs … can have a huge impact in a country like Mozambique".

"Expanded drug donations from the pharmaceutical industry will be part of the solution," said Daniel Berman, deputy director of the international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines.

"But it is not possible to eliminate and control diseases such as Chagas, kala azar or sleeping sickness without increased support for programmes to identify and treat patients and increased investment in new and better diagnostic tests and medicines."

For some of the most deadly NTDs, control or elimination will be achievable only with future commitment to R&D, agreed Bernard Pécoul executive director of the Geneva-based Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), one of the endorsers of the initiative.

He said "new drugs and diagnostics are urgently needed to improve patient care, respond to the challenge of drug resistance and enhance prospects for disease elimination".

Some US$785 million was pledged by donors and philanthropists at the meeting. The largest pledges came from the Gates Foundation, US$363 million over the next five years, some of it for drugs innovation and discovery; and £195 million (around US$308 million) by 2015 from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

On the margins of the conference DNDi and the drug company Abbott signed a four year joint research and non-exclusive licensing agreement for research into NTDs, including Chagas disease, helminth infections, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness.

They will focus initially on discovering and advancing novel anti-microbial agents.

The agreement provides DNDi with greater access to Abbott’s research data, and compounds to screen for activity against NTDs.

DNDi also announced at the conference a collaboration with Johnson & Johnson, Abbott, and Pfizer for R&D work on a drug for filiarial diseases.

The governments of Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Tanzania, where NTDs are endemic, announced they would put plans in place to combat NTDs.

Link to WHO’s ‘Accelerating Work to Overcome the Global Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases’  [478kB]

Link to ‘London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases’  [370kB]

See below for a Gates Foundation video about the new initiative: