MSF Calls on Public Investment to Support Neglected Disease Research

1999 Nobel Peace Prize Money Goes to Research for Treating Diseases of the Poor

Brussels/New York , 10 October 2000 — The international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today announced how the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize money, which was used to set up a Neglected Disease Fund, has been allocated. The organization announced that the fund will continue and is currently being used to treat patients suffering from rare diseases (kala azar and sleeping sickness); to conduct pilot programs on the use of existing but overpriced treatments in developing countries (multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and AIDS); and to help bridge the gap of public investment in research by developing a new combined dose anti-malarial treatment.

MSF field workers and other health workers are confronted on a daily basis with the need to find cheaper and more appropriate ways of treating patients, many of whom are dying because they do not have access to existing medicines. "While we hope and wait for vaccines, there is work to be done now to save lives by treating patients and by lowering the prices of existing medicines. In the medium term, existing treatments must be simplified and new appropriate treatments developed. The fund is a small step to save lives and raise awareness about the needs of the world's forgotten patients," said Dr. James Orbinski, International Council President of MSF.

MSF also called on governments and intergovernmental organizations like the World Health Organization and the World Bank to support countries researching new treatments and fighting for access to treatment for neglected diseases. This includes developing new combined-dose anti-malarial treatments to fight resistance, as well as trying to simplify existing treatments for tuberculosis ("DOTS"). The price of treatment for AIDS and multidrug-resistant TB must also be lowered.

The Nobel Peace Prize Neglected Disease Fund was established to support MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, which aims to overcome trade and pricing barriers to access existing drugs and to stimulate development of new treatments. This fund will be maintained through MSF's own private funding or other sources. The fund will be available to support projects run by MSF and other organizations.

The Nobel Peace Prize money of 940,000 Euros, which was used to create the Neglected Disease Fund, has been allocated to the following projects:

  • 225,000 Euros for the development and use of a new combined anti-malarial treatment
  • 160,000 Euros to supply drugs for 5,000 sleeping sickness patients over the next 5 years and to test new treatments
  • 120,000 Euros to provide drugs, lab exams and training for kala azar treatment
  • 210,000 Euros to supply lower-price, high-quality drugs for the treatment of multidrug-resistant TB
  • 225,000 Euros to support pilot projects that provide affordable treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS in less-developed countries

Infectious diseases kill over 15 million people each year. Almost all of these deaths occur among poor people in poor countries. The need for effective and affordable treatments is clear. However, drug research has come to a virtual standstill: in the last 20 years over 1,200 new drugs have been produced but only 13 of these were for tropical diseases. Research into new treatments for these diseases has ground to a standstill. Medicines are today treated like any other profitable product, and the pharmaceutical industry has abandoned research into diseases of the poor—diseases for which there is no "market."

Malaria for example, kills approximately 1 to 2 million people each year, almost all in the developing world. Many of the malaria parasites in the developing world are resistant to existing treatments. Single-dose drug combinations give a much better chance of killing the parasite and avoiding resistance. MSF is paying for the development of drug combinations, which will then be available in the combined form by MSF and others. One three-day combination, for example, is known to be particularly effective in West Africa and Latin America and only costs $US1.20 per adult per treatment and half the price for children.