Glob­al fund­ing for ne­glect­ed dis­ease R&D hit record high in 2017 — with meaty con­tri­bu­tions by UK, EC, In­dia and Ger­many

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.


John Hood [file photo]

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