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Attention for neglected diseases

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A dramatic sea-change in research into ten so-called 'neglected diseases', including malaria, tuberculosis (TB), leprosy and sleeping sickness, could result in at least eight new drugs being developed by 2010, an influential report claims today (Thursday 8 September).

After a barren period when very few therapies were introduced for these diseases, which kill around 3m people a year and cause the loss of the equivalent of 92m years' of healthy life, there are now over 60 drug research projects underway.

Around three-quarters of these projects are conducted under the umbrella of drug development Public-Private Partnerships, with 13 of them having already reached clinical trial stage and two* awaiting regulatory approval. These PPP-driven projects should result in six or seven new drug registrations in the next five years.

The 100-page report was financed by the Wellcome Trust and carried out by a team from LSE's Health and Social Care research centre, led by Dr Mary Moran. It demonstrates that PPPs have been a critical driver of this considerable increase in activity, and recommends policy-makers should support them when it comes to neglected disease research and development.

In the four years to 2004 Public-Private Partnerships spent £62m ($112m) on a combined portfolio of 46 drug projects. In contrast, a company will have to invest around £220 ($400m) out of pocket costs to bring just one commercial drug to market, according to the report, The New Landscape of Neglected Disease Drug Development.

The report, on the basis of a vast amount of empirical data, also finds that the PPP approach brings together the best skills of both public and private partners. This model consequently performs better than either sector working alone when it comes to delivering safe, effective, affordable drugs for neglected diseases.

Dr Moran, programme director of the Pharmaceutical Research and Development Policy Group at LSE, said: 'For many years, it was the sad truth that virtually nothing was happening in neglected disease R&D. But we are now seeing some really promising developments that simply did not exist 10 years ago. In reality, the current problem is not that nothing is happening - it is that policy-makers and government donors are still working off this old R&D script. As a result, policies have tended to focus on how to get R&D started but have largely failed to support neglected disease initiatives that are already working on- and in some cases already delivering - new drugs.

'We hope our report goes some way towards bringing this "R&D script" up to date. With the right information and tools, we are confident that policy-makers can give a highly-effective boost to neglected disease drug development for the millions of patients who are waiting on these products.'

Dr Ted Bianco, director of technology transfer at the Wellcome Trust said: 'This report gives us confidence that Public-Private Partnerships are stimulating an unprecedented level of research into badly needed, new drugs for neglected diseases.

'It is evident that this model has attractions for small and large companies alike and most importantly looks set to deliver much needed medicines to some of the most under-privileged people of the world.

'There is a political consensus within the G8 that it is a global responsibility to check the misery caused by infectious diseases in developing countries. Dr Moran's proposals on how governments may more fully engage with the PPPs is timely particularly as the philanthropic organisations cannot be expected to shoulder the financial burden of this type of research forever.'  

Click here to download the full report| 



  • Mark Anderson, Wellcome Trust Media Office, tel: 020 7611 8612.
  • Jessica Winterstein, LSE Press Office, tel: 020 7955 7060, email: j.winterstein@lse.ac.uk

Notes to editors.

The Wellcome Trust is an independent research-funding charity established in 1936 under the will of tropical medicine pioneer Sir Henry Wellcome. The Trust's mission is to promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health and it currently spends more than £400m pa. The Technology Transfer Division manages the charity's intellectual property portfolio and related matters and provides translation funding for early-stage healthcare technology development. Over 70 research and license agreements have been transacted and the division has an interest in around 20 life science Small, Medium Enterprises located in the UK or US. For more information, see www.wellcome.ac.uk| 

Neglected Diseases as listed by the World Health Organisation:

Human African Trypanosomiasis: (HAT or sleeping sickness): Around 60m people in 36 sub-Sahara African countries at risk. Reduces many victims to zombie-like state. Fatal if not treated. Most drugs are old, difficult to administer and one - Melarsoprol - contains arsenic and can kill up to one in twenty patients.

Chagas disease: Prevalent in South and Central America as well as Mexico, affecting 16-18 million people in 21 countries with 120m at risk. Is often symptomless for years but can eventually cause heart damage and kill. Two drugs available for treatment but these can have serious and frequent side-effects.

Dengue: More than one-third of the world's population - 2500 million people -are under threat from this mosquito-borne disease which is nicknamed "breakbone fever" because of the crushing intensity of the flu-like symptoms it brings. Affects 100 countries in Africa, the Americas, SE Asia and western Pacific. No specific treatment.

Leishmaniasis: Has spread significantly in the last decade and now affects 88 countries with 350m people at risk. In worst cases it causes severe scarring and eats away the mouth, palate and nose tissue, leading to victims being ostracised by their communities. Transmitted by sandflies. Drugs are either toxic or unaffordable.

Leprosy: Earliest reported cases in 600 BC. Over past 20 years more than 12m patients have been cured and the disease has been wiped-out in 108 of the 122 countries where it was a threat. However in 2002 there were still 650,000 cases reported in India, Brazil, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar and Nepal. Effective drugs have been available since the 1940s but an extended course is needed.

Lymphatic filariasis (Elephantiasis): This mosquito-spread disease causes massive swelling of the limbs and genital area. Of the 120m people who have it around one-third are seriously incapacitated or disfigured. Two-thirds of cases occur in India and Africa with the rest in South Asia, the Pacific and Americas. It is a continuing problem but drugs can be effective if given early enough. Some have been donated by major pharmaceutical companies (GlaxoSmithKline and Merck).

Malaria: There are more than half a billion episodes a year resulting in at least one million deaths. Most victims are young children. The majority of cases occur in Africa with nearly 25% in SE Asia and the western Pacific. Malaria is estimated to cost Africa alone $12bn in lost GDP each year. Extensive resistance to some drugs has now prompted the WHO to recommend combination therapies, preferably those containing derivatives of artemisinin - taken from the Chinese herb qinghao - but these can be expensive.

Onchocerciasis (River Blindness): One of the world's leading causes of infectious blindness, caused by a parasitic worm which lives in the body for up to 14 years. Some 18m people in tropical Africa are infected. Of these 800,000 have vision impairment and another 270,000 are blind. A single dose of ivermectin, taken annually, is effective but does not completely clear the infection. This drug is being donated free by Merck.

Schistosomiasis ( Bilharzia): Affects 200m people living in 74 developing countries. Parasite picked-up from snails living in freshwater causes damage to the bladder and kidneys. Kills relatively few - around 15,000 - but children are especially vulnerable. Two effective drugs are available - praziquantel and oxamniquine.

Tuberculosis: Kills around 1.6m people a year with someone becoming infected every second. They, in turn, will infect between 10 and 15 people. The WHO declared TB a global health emergency in 1993. Most cases occur in Africa, SE Asia and the western Pacific. Various vaccines are in development and the disease can be effectively treated with a cocktail of drugs, but only after several months of intensive therapy.

Press cuttings

Washington Post
In Brazil, Field Trials To Treat World's Poor (11 Oct 06)
Article about neglected diseases - the field concerned with ailments affecting the 2.7 billion people who live on less than $2 a day. Refers to an LSE study which found that since 1975, only 13 drugs targeting neglected diseases have been launched. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/10/AR2006101001309.html| 

US Newswire, DC
Brookings Briefing: The New Landscape: Drug Development for Neglected Diseases (17 Apr 06)
Reference to research by Mary Moran, LSE on neglected diseases.

Financial Times
When noble ideals are no longer enough (13 Jan 06)
Mary Moran, head of the Pharmaceutical R&D Project at LSE, wrote in the September 2005 issue of PLoS Medicine, an international medical journal: 'The landscape of neglected-disease drug development has changed dramatically during the past five years.' In its recent analysis of drug-development projects for neglected diseases, her team credited a plethora of new 'public-private partnerships' for the surge in new efforts. 

Financial Times: FT Magazine
The biter bit (10 Dec 05)
Dr Mary Moran and colleagues from LSE are mentioned with regard their recent analysis of the development of drugs to treat neglected diseases.

Chemical and Engineering News
Fighting Malaria (24 Oct 05)
New antimalarial drugs are needed to ensure that effective and affordable treatments continue to be available and are not lost to parasite resistance. Reference to LSE study into neglected diseases.

New York Times
Bayer offers new antibiotic with promise in fight on TB (17 Oct 05)
According to Mary Moran, LSE expert on drugs for neglected diseases: 'Companies are much more likely to offer drugs that have no commercial value, or to piggyback a drug from the veterinary sector and give it a human application'.

Life Science Weekly
Infectious disease (27 Sep 05)
New drugs may soon be available for some previously ignored worst diseases. Reference to research financed by the Wellcome Trust and carried out by a team at LSE led by Dr Mary Moran on neglected diseases. Also mentioned in Pharma Law Weekly, Science Letter, Virus Weekly and other weekly medical journals.

A breakthrough in R&D for neglected diseases (12 Sep 05)
Research by Mary Moran, LSE, on neglected diseases.

A new era of hope for neglected diseases (12 Sep 05)
Reference to research by Mary Moran, LSE, financed by the Wellcome Trust, on neglected diseases.

Medical News Today
A new era of hope for neglected diseases (9 Sep 05)

Financial Times
New approach urged in resolving 'neglected' diseases (8 Sep 05)
Stronger incentives to smaller biomedical companies rather than to large pharmaceutical groups could help boost the development of treatments for 'neglected' diseases of the developing world, according to a report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust. The report, by LSE contradict the accepted wisdom of policy documents such as the recent UK government-led Commission for Africa, which calls for fresh incentives to persuade pharmaceutical multinationals to do more for diseases in Africa.

Finance ministers launch global vaccine fund to tackle diseases of the poor
Reference to LSE report on neglected diseases. 

United Press International
Public-private efforts find new drugs (8 Sep 05)

Attention to neglected disease (8 Sep)

Attention for neglected diseases (8 Sep 05)
A dramatic sea-change in research into ten so-called 'neglected diseases', including malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy and sleeping sickness, could result in at least eight new drugs being developed by 2010, an influential report claims today. Financed by the Wellcome Trust and carried out by a team from LSE led by Dr Mary Moran, demonstrates that public and private partnerships drug development have been a critical driver and recommends policy-makers should support them when it comes to neglected disease research and development.

8 September 2005