Developing New Drugs & Vaccines

Conquering neglected diseases in developing countries.

The Need for New Therapies to Help Cure the World's Poorest

What are 'neglected' diseases?

Neglected diseases are tropical infections that effect mostly poor populations in 3rd world countries. These diseases are called 'neglected' because they receive less attention and lack research and development (R&D). Many new drugs are developed to treat cancer, asthma, and other conditions found in developed countries but very little for poorer countries.

Why do we need to develop new medicines for these diseases?

There are no safe and effective drugs, vaccines, or diagnostics for many neglected diseases. Some current drugs, such as antituberculosis drugs, are becoming ineffective due to drug resistance. Other diseases require hospitalization for treatment which many patients living in developing or undeveloped countries cannot afford.

Out of 2.7 billion of the world's poorest people, more than 1 billion people are affected by neglected diseases each year in Africa, Southeast Asia, and some areas of South America and Europe. Therefore, it is vital to prevent and reduce these diseases, so we can improve global health especially in less fortunate countries.

The Effort to Find New Solutions

Between 1975 and 1999, 1393 new chemical entities were marketed (mostly in high-income countries) but only 16 were for neglected diseases. Over the past 25 years, there has been an imbalance in the pharmaceutical industries' investments for R&D of neglected diseases. However, malaria has proven to be the biggest advancement for drug research and development of neglected diseases, since it affects some developed countries as well. In fact, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis (known as the "big 3" diseases) receive the majority of global neglected disease funds. On the other hand, the remaining neglected diseases, such as dengue, Human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, and helminth infections receive less than 6% of global disease R&D funding each. Others, like leprosy, Buruli ulcer, trachoma, and rheumatic fever receive less than 0.5% of global funding altogether.

More recently, in the 21st century, national governments and international organizations have been trying to make up for the lack of new treatments and effective drugs for developing countries. GlaxoSmithKline and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals formed a partnership to share intellectual property (IP) for developing new therapies to treat the world’s most neglected diseases. BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), in collaboration with Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), is committed to accelerate the development of biotechnology-based drugs to attend to the unmet needs in poor countries. Another organization called Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) is currently working on several projects to address the distinguished needs for the treatments of leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, and malaria. DNDi is confirming possible treatments for those diseases. For the sleeping sickness, DNDi is focused on finding new lead compounds to treat the 2nd stage of sleeping sickness by experimenting with high throughout scans of whole cell trypanosomes. Other organizations, who are working on malaria, use cell cultures and infection models. They make observations from healthy test subjects exposed to malarial infections and treated with different drugs (the malarial infections do not harm the test subjects). All in all, there is approximately 348 organizations participating in the development of 374 drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases-the majority being for malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. Medicines for leprosy and malaria should be used in combination so as to prevent drug resistance. Fixed-dose combinations are recommended for tuberculosis.

Biotech and other pharmaceutical companies are striving to increase global neglected disease funds by creating partnerships and gaining public support from developed countries. Drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases are continuing to be further developed to meet the urgent needs of poor populations around the world. Organizations aim to acquire total control of neglected diseases in the near future for healthier societies everywhere.


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By Sophia Asif