Drug companies join forces to end neglected tropical diseases


Will expand drug donation programmes and provide US$785m to support r&d efforts

Thirteen pharmaceutical companies, along with governments and other global health organisations, have unveiled a ‘coordinated push’ to accelerate progress toward eliminating or controlling 10 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by the end of the decade.

The companies, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and other groups, have pledged to work together in the ‘largest coordinated effort to date’ to combat NTDs.

The plan, announced at the Royal College of Physicians in London, will see the expansion of existing drug donation programmes and provide more than US$785m to support r&d efforts.

With new and existing pledges companies will donate an average of 1.4 billion treatments each year, according to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA). The new commitments will close the funding gap to eradicate Guinea worm disease and make progress toward the elimination of lymphatic filariasis, blinding trachoma, sleeping sickness and leprosy, and control of soil-transmitted helminthes, schistosomiasis, river blindness, Chagas disease and visceral leishmaniasis.

Bill Gates said: ‘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.’

The Gates Foundation announced a five-year, US$363 million commitment to support NTD product and operational research.

Speaking on behalf of the 13 pharmaceutical companies involved, Sir Andrew Witty, ceo of GlaxoSmithKline, said: ‘Many companies and organisations have worked for decades to fight these horrific diseases. But no one company or organisation can do it alone. Today, we pledge to work hand-in-hand to revolutionise the way we fight these diseases now and in the future.’

To guide the effort against NTDs, the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week unveiled a new strategy, Accelerating work to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases – A roadmap for implementation, that sets targets for what can be achieved by the end of the decade.

‘The efforts of WHO, researchers, partners, and the contributions of industry have changed the face of NTDs. These ancient diseases are now being brought to their knees with stunning speed,’ said Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO. ‘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 following list outlines the pledges made by the pharma companies:

  • Sanofi, Eisai and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will provide 120 million DEC tablets to the WHO’s Global Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) Elimination programme. Combined with Eisai\'s donation commitment that will start in 2014, these new tablets will ensure a sufficient supply of DEC from 2012 through 2020.
  • Bayer will double its existing donation of nifurtimox to treat Chagas disease.
  • Eisai will extend its existing donation of 2.2 billion tablets of DEC for LF to 2020.
  • Gilead, which announced a donation of AmBisome for visceral leishmaniasis in 2011, will continue to offer VL at cost and invest in technologies and processes that could reduce that cost in resource-limited countries.
  • GlaxoSmithKline will extend its existing donation of albendazole to treat soil-transmitted helminthes by providing 400 million tablets per year for an additional five years to 2020, as well as continuing its donation of 600 million tablets per year to combat lymphatic filariasis.
  • Johnson & Johnson will extend its existing donation of mebendazole for soil-transmitted helminthes by providing 200 million tablets per year to 2020.
  • MSD will continue its unlimited donation of ivermectin to combat river blindness and lymphatic filariasis (where co-endemic with river blindness), as well as discuss the use of ivermectin to combat other diseases.
  • Merck KGaA will increase its annual donation of praziquantel tablets from 25 million to 250 million tablets a year, extending the programme indefinitely.
  • Novartis will extend its commitment to provide multi-drug therapy (rifampicin, clofazimine and dapsone) to leprosy patients worldwide in a final push against the disease.
  • Pfizer will continue its donation of azithromycin for blinding trachoma until at least 2020, as well as donate the drug and placebo to a study on the reduction in mortality of children treated with azithromycin.
  • Sanofi will extend its existing donation of eflornithine, melarsoprol and pentamidine for sleeping sickness to 2020, as well as logistical support to ensure that the drugs continue to reach patients at the point of care cost-free.
  • Product development partnerships under the coordination of DNDi with Abbott, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer are underway to develop new drugs to treat helminth infections, notably a macrofilaricide, which kills adult worms that cause river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.
  • Abbott is conducting initial drug reformulation studies and providing scientific expertise for preclinical development, with technical and supply assistance from Johnson & Johnson.
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