Non-profit groups developing new drugs and vaccines for neglected tropical diseases urgently need more than $1 billion in additional funding, according to a report on Friday. The Initiative on Public-Private Partnerships for Health (IPPPH), based in Geneva, said $2 billion had been pledged in last five years but more investment was now essential as drug candidates move into larger-scale clinical trials.
The idea of bringing charities and private enterprise together to tackle diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS first took root in the late 1990s, following the failure of the conventional commercial model to produce new treatments.
Pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to develop diseases that affect only the poor, since they do not provide significant profits.
As a result, while $70 billion is spent each year on health research, only 10 percent goes into areas representing 90 percent of the world’s health burden, according to the IPPPH.
Under the public-private partnership approach, groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation provide cash while drug companies offer help “in kind” in the form of staff, equipment and testing facilities.
A precondition of the arrangement is that any resulting products are sold at low prices in developing countries.
Roy Widdus, project manager at the IPPPH, said the initiative was starting to bear fruit and the first novel medicines could be available within five years, assuming they prove successful in clinical trials.
But as more candidate products enter the final expensive stage of clinical testing, including large phase III efficacy studies, the guaranteed availability of funding is becoming critical.
“Product development requires a long term commitment. It can take over 10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to develop drugs - probably even more for vaccines,” Widdus said.
According to the report, more than $1 billion of additional financing is required through 2007.
About 20 public-private partnerships now exist. Some are still at a very early stage of development but a few have over six years experience and sizeable portfolios with more than 25 products in development.
The first partnership to be created was the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which became an independent legal entity in 1996.
Other groups have since been created to focus on diseases including malaria, tuberculosis, dengue fever, hookworm and rotavirus, a common cause of diarrhoea in children.
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by Tatiana Kuznetsova, D.M.D.