About a decade ago, in the throes of the global financial crisis when most countries focused their resources on stimulating their domestic economies, the United States’ NIH overwhelmingly contributed to global funding for neglected disease R&D. But other nations are now catching up. In 2017, global investment for neglected diseases hit record levels at $3.5 billion — the largest increase since 2008 — driven largely by the UK and the European Commission (EC), along with India and Germany, according to a key survey funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The G-FINDER survey is conducted by Policy Cures Research, which came out with its first report in 2008, tracking global public, private, and philanthropic investment into product R&D for neglected diseases, which chiefly impact developing countries and are not given significant R&D attention. For the 2017 report, 197 organizations completed the survey, which encompassed 33 neglected diseases and all relevant product types: drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, microbicides and vector control products from basic research to post-approval studies.
Millions of lives are plagued by infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria or other parasitic diseases, which disproportionately affect low and middle income countries — where access to health care, drinking water and hygienic living conditions is not typically guaranteed. Investment to diminish the burden of poverty-related and neglected diseases, and their associated morbidity and mortality, is imperative to extricate sufferers from the vicious cycle of poverty and disease. According to the END fund, neglected tropical diseases affect more than 1.5 billion of the world’s most impoverished people, including 836 million children, and kill more than 170,000 people each year.
Data from the G-FINDER report showed that global investment into neglected disease R&D jumped 7% ($232 million) over 2016, and indicated for the first time since 2009 that there has been two consecutive years of growth in global funding for neglected disease R&D.
Back in 2009, the NIH provided nearly 98% of the net overall rise in spending and most of those resources were directed toward academic institutions that typically focus on basic research, as well as small US-based biopharma companies. In 2017, the injection driven by investments from the UK, EC, India and Germany also came from the public sector, but that funding was chiefly directed at organizations that focus on clinical trials and product development.
Investments from emerging funders, such as Unitaid, Médecins Sans Frontières, Gavi, and the governments of Japan, India and Brazil were underscored for 2016, and each of these entity’s raised their funding in 2017 with the exception of Brazil, where a cap was imposed on public sector funding. India sharply raised its funding by 38% ($21 million) — and accounted for the fourth largest public funder overall. Meanwhile South Africa also upped its contribution by 24% ($2.7 million) — the largest ever investment as a slice of GDP provided by a low- and middle-income country.
In terms of high income countries, sizable increases by the UK (up 89% or $87 million) and EC (up 50% or $40 million) narrowed the gap between second and third highest contributors and the biggest contributor of all — the US — which also lifted its funding marginally by 1.5% ($23 million).
Despite hitting record highs in funding in 2017, not a single government met the WHO recommendation that member states dedicate at least 0.01% of their GDP to research into the health needs of developing countries, the report highlighted. “Only two countries – the US with 0.0082% and the UK with 0.0071% – were even close, with no other country even reaching half the target level. In fact, over the 11 year history of the G-FINDER report, only the US has ever met this target (which it did between 2007 and 2012),” the report noted.
Funding by the biopharma industry inched lower in 2017 for both big pharma and small drug and device developers, following five consecutive years of growth. But this may be due to developments in industry pipelines — for example the notable rise and fall in malaria drug funding was driven by the late-stage development and eventual approval of GSK’s malaria vaccine tafenoquine, now sold as Krintafel.
HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis together inspired more than two-thirds (70% or $2,496 million) of 2017 funding, in line with preceding years. With a plethora of treatments akin to a cure now available for hep C, the drop in funding relegated the disease to the group of ailments that get less than 0.5% of global funding each year.
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