Big pharma joins fight against tropical diseases

Some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have teamed up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pledging to eliminate or control ten neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2020.

They say they’ll expand existing drug donation programs, share expertise and compounds and accelerate research and development of new drugs, while providing more than US$785 million in funding.

“This innovative approach must serve as a model for solving other global development challenges and will help millions of people build self-sufficiency and overcome the need for aid,” says Bill Gates, whose foundation is putting US$363 million into the project.

The aim is to eradicate Guinea worm disease altogether, along with, if possible, lymphatic filariasis, blinding trachoma, sleeping sickness and leprosy. The group also hopes to bring control of soil-transmitted helminthes, schistosomiasis, river blindness, Chagas disease and visceral leishmaniasis.

“These ancient diseases are now being brought to their knees with stunning speed,” says Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization.

“With the boost to this momentum being made today, I am confident almost all of these diseases can be eliminated or controlled by the end of this decade.”

The companies involved – which include GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer and Johnson & Johnson – will donate an average of 1.4 billion treatments each year to those in need, as well as carrying out new research and signing access agreements.

The work’s also supported by the US, UK and UAE governments.

“The world has come together to end the neglect of these horrific diseases which needlessly disable, blind and kill millions of the world’s poorest,” says Stephen O’Brien, UK minister for international development.

“Britain and other partners are leading the way to provide critical treatments to millions of people, which allow children to attend school and parents to provide for their families so that they can help themselves out of poverty and eventually no longer rely on aid.”