London/New York, June 8th, 2005 - Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), other non-governmental organizations, scientists and a number of Nobel laureates around the world today joined the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative1 in a global appeal to focus research on developing new drugs, diagnostic tests and vaccines for diseases of the poor. The signatories demand political leadership in defining research priorities, ensuring sustained financial support and reducing patent and regulatory barriers to step up vital research and development (R&D) activities.
MSF expressed its frustration at having to use ineffective medical technology to treat patients with sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and other fatal or disabling conditions that primarily affect people in developing countries.
"Determining whether a patient has tuberculosis or not with the existing diagnostic test only works about half of the time. For children, or people co-infected with TB and HIV, the test is even more unreliable. There is no simple, effective test to diagnose and follow up these patients today," said Dr Tido von Schoen-Angerer, coordinator of R&D for MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "We cannot accept that we must practice second-class medicine just because our patients live in poor countries. We need a culture of medical innovation that meets the needs of neglected patients. Only strong international political leadership will make this happen."
Awareness of an imbalance in health R&D has grown in recent years, and new public-private-partnerships and other initiatives have been set up to address some of the challenges involved in preventing, diagnosing and treating neglected diseases. While these initiatives are each making a specific contribution, they are not the solution. The global effort to tackle neglected diseases remains patchy and dramatically under-funded, relying heavily on charitable donations. The World Health Organization has yet to give the issue sufficient priority.
Much greater resources are needed to carry out the ambitious and time-consuming work that is required to complete health R&D. This includes a massive investment in basic science over many years. "The problem will not be solved without addressing the failure of the current profit- and patent-driven R&D system," said Dr von Schoen-Angerer.
With more than $100 billion spent on health research globally every year compared to the $3 billion needed for neglected diseases, clearly the wrong priorities have been set. As it is now, R&D costs are paid mainly through the sales of drugs. This results in medicines and diagnostic tests priced out of poor people's reach - and in the lack of innovation for neglected diseases.
"Governments must create radically different funding mechanisms that address this imbalance," said Dr von Schoen-Angerer.
1 The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative is an independent not-for-profit drug development organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its founding partners are the Kenya Medical Research Institute; the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil; the Pasteur Institute, France; the Ministry of Health, Malaysia; the Indian Council of Medical Research; and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières.