Via The Guardian: Nobel prize winners point the way in battle against diseases of poverty. Excerpt:
What does it take to bring the fruits of scientific innovation to vulnerable patients in the world’s poorest communities?
The discoveries recognised by the 2015 Nobel prize for medicine are perfect examples of the journey from test tube to bedside, and tell a fascinating geopolitical story of how effective drugs for neglected diseases are discovered, made, and distributed. Importantly, they show what happens when we work together for patients, not just profits.
The Nobel recipient Dr Tu Youyou is credited with the discovery of artemisinin, which led to the current arsenal of antimalarial drugs – artemisinin-based combination treatments (ACTs) that have saved millions of lives.
Similarly, avermectin, the compound discovered by the other two recipients, professors Satoshi Omura and William Campbell, generated the drug ivermectin, an effective treatment against river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, diseases that cause immense suffering and severe disfigurement.
When these discoveries were made in the 1970s, there was a desperate lack of research and development for diseases that were devastating poor communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It was the start of more attention from UN agencies, and the development of numerous organisations to build this capacity.
Tu was able to get support for her discovery from international and national research institutions, and forged connections with key international pharmaceutical companies. They in turn partnered with new, not-for-profit research foundations to ensure the development of badly needed ACTs that met World Health Organisation recommendations for adults and children.
Political will eventually coalesced, resulting in a twentyfold increase in malaria funding from 2000 until 2015. To date, artemisinin-based antimalarials have been delivered to more than 600 million people. Treatment for river blindness and lymphatic filiariasis benefited from a similar private-public collaboration. But sadly these important advances were exceptions, particularly for poverty-related diseases where commercial incentives for research are not sustainable.
On a positive note, a report released on 13 October by the research group Policy Cures at an event organised by the German government in Berlin shows that there are nearly 500 product candidates in the pipeline for neglected diseases, including treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines. Nearly half of these are being developed through public-private “product development partnerships”.