Joelle Tanguy, Director of External Affairs, DNDi
The annual G-FINDER report[i], published yesterday, reviews critical trends in medical research and development (R&D) funding that translate into life and death for the world’s most vulnerable communities.
The report highlights a continuing and worrying trend. Only 8.5% of neglected disease R&D funding in 2019 was allocated for the most neglected diseases: neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Following a decade of stagnant R&D funding for NTDs – and record-low funding in 2018 – 2019 saw only a minimal increase of USD 7.5m (2.4%). Sustained R&D funding shortfalls for NTDs will hinder access to urgently needed tools to prevent, diagnose, control, and cure these diseases.
NTDs affect 20% of the world population: 1.7 billion people living mostly in the least economically developed countries, almost half of them children. The group of twenty diseases attracts little media attention or funding, but NTDs cost fragile economies billions of dollars and fuel seemingly inescapable cycles of poverty.
We must do more to ensure that all people have access to the fruits of scientific progress, no matter their income or where they live.
By last week, people in low-income countries had received just 0.2% of all COVID-19 shots given worldwide, with the bulk (87%) delivered in the richest countries. Such shocking statistics illustrate the deadly ‘trickle down’ model of health R&D, denounced by many global health observers and experts such as Professor Madu Pai of McGill University: ‘Products and innovations are developed in the Global North, and after a decade or two, they slowly trickle down to the Global South, where the biggest needs are, and where technologies often have the greatest impact.’[ii]
Worse yet, for NTDs, there is simply little, if any, innovation trickling down. Rarely seen in high income countries, these infectious diseases mostly affect poor people living in the Global South. They very rarely attract private pharmaceutical research investment unless investment is catalyzed by non-profit product development partnerships like the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) with the support of public and philanthropic donors.
Although the funding trend for NTD R&D is troubling, the G-FINDER report illustrates a positive overall rise in public, private, and philanthropic investments in neglected disease R&D over the past decade. These commitments have translated into research breakthroughs that are poised to come to fruition over the coming years – and into new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics that have already been developed and rolled out, saving millions of lives.
For example, once a death sentence, sleeping sickness is now a disease that can be promptly diagnosed and treated with an easily accessible, all-oral treatment: fexinidazole. DNDi and our partners revolutionized treatment for the disease with this simple, all-oral cure to replace toxic, cumbersome earlier medicines. We are now working to go even further, advancing studies for a single-dose treatment that could provide a radical boost for sustainable elimination of the disease. Altogether, DNDi has delivered eight treatments for five neglected diseases, and we aim to deliver 15 to 18 more by 2028.
Such a track record of performance and impact should inspire public and philanthropic donors to accelerate investment in non-profit product development partnerships working to deliver the innovations neglected patients need.
Find out more about the G-FINDER report.
[i] The G-FINDER report provides policymakers, donors, researchers, and industry with a comprehensive analysis of global investment into R&D of new products to prevent, diagnose, control, or cure neglected diseases in developing countries. It gives an up-to-date analysis of how R&D investments are being allocated across 36 neglected diseases, and product types, funding trends over time, and where the potential gaps lie.
[ii] Global Health Technologies: Time To Re-Think The ‘Trickle Down’ Model (Forbes)
Photo credit: Junior Diatezua Kannah – DNDi