Via The Observer: Ebola is in America – and, finally, within range of Big Pharma. Excerpt:
Research funding for neglected tropical diseases rose 3% to $3.2bn in 2012 after years of decline, according to a survey funded by the Gates foundation. But pharmaceuticals firms contributed just $527m – a fraction of total spending on research and development of $130bn. Most of the money spent on tropical diseases – two-thirds of it – comes from governments.
A study published in The Lancet last year showed that of the 336 new drugs developed between 2000 and 2011, only four were for neglected diseases (three for malaria and one for diarrhoeal diseases), and of 150,000 trials registered in late 2011, only 1% tackled NTDs.
Ebola could change all that. Deutsche Bank analyst Mark Clark says: "Ebola could be the issue that sends the whole thing snowballing. You are going to get more industry engagement. The signs were already positive after the London Declaration on NTDs in 2012."
Jacobson reckons the 2020 goals are "ambitious on all fronts" but "each one is attainable", even though a funding gap of $1.5bn remains. "Unfortunately, it's always a good thing for a disease to make it to an industrialised country," she says. "A lot of tropical diseases have been invisible to the world."
A progress report from signatories of the London declaration earlier this year highlighted early successes: Colombia became the first country to verify the elimination of river blindness (followed by Ecuador); Nigeria, Niger and Ivory Coast were certified as free of Guinea worm; and Morocco has been declared clear of blinding trachoma.
Within the industry, GlaxoSmithKline, Britain's biggest drugmaker, and France's Sanofi are investing the most, each putting more than $100m a year into tropical disease research, according to Deutsche Bank. They are followed by Switzerland's Novartis, which plays a key role in the supply of antimalarial drugs in Africa, its Swiss rival Roche and Germany's Bayer.
By contrast, most US pharmaceuticals firms regard tropical diseases as a philanthropic venture and restrict themselves to donating off-patent drugs such as anti-worm tablets, Clark says.
He added: "To the extent that these diseases are starting to appear in the US, this will put the issue much more firmly on [US companies'] radar."