Public Responsibility in Research and Development Partnerships

Author(s): Bernard Pécoul1
Affiliation(s): 1Executive Director, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, Geneva, Switzerland
Key issues: A fatal imbalance exists in the investment in new drugs for neglected diseases, such as sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis, versus diseases prevalent in wealthy countries. From 1975 to 2004, of the 1,556 new drugs marketed only 21 just over one percent were for infectious tropical diseases and tuberculosis, in spite of the huge need. So, not only are the poor in developing countries disproportionately suffering from curable diseases, but their needs are woefully unmet by the existing model of drug development.
Meeting challenges: This disparity is now widely acknowledged and is being addressed by new research as well as new initiatives. Several research initiatives have been set up in the last 5 years to address this issue, e.g., the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), Medicines for Malaria Venture, and TB Alliance. The challenge here lies in procuring full financial and political support from governments so that the initiatives can achieve their goals of developing and delivering desperately needed, new, effective, needs-oriented medicines to neglected patients. Currently, only 16% of funding for these initiatives comes from governments, while almost 80% comes from philanthropic organisations. This is unsustainable. The importance of public responsibility in providing equitable access to these health tools is an essential part of DNDi’s message as a not-for-profit research organisation that works in close collaboration with public and private partners in both developing and developed countries. The need for increased public support of essential innovation for neglected diseases is a growing global concern. Governments are being urged to lose no more time in supporting new funding mechanisms for neglected disease research and development and to create a favourable environment to stimulate R&D. A handful of Innovative Developing Countries such as India, South Africa, Brazil, etc. are becoming more proactive in the field of drug R&D. Yet innovation in drug discovery for neglected diseases remains a critical gap.
Conclusion (max 400 words): This message has recently gained ground at the WHA 2006, which voted to adopt a resolution to establish a global strategy and a plan of action directed at public health, innovation and essential health research. These are positive steps towards addressing the greater problem of R&D for neglected diseases. Much more remains to be done.

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