GENEVA—Looking to help the developing world fight endemic diseases, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) announced it had received a €9.5-million grant from the United Kingdom's Department of International Development (DFID). The money will be used by the organization to address significant gaps in development of drugs for tropical diseases such as malaria, Chagas disease and human trypanosomiasis.
"When DNDi was established in 2003, its mandate was to develop neglected diseases by promoting a needs-driven R&D agenda," explains Dr. Bernard Pecoul, DNDi executive director. The organization defines neglected diseases as any of a group of disorders that exclusively affect the poor and the powerless in rural and impoverished urban areas of developing countries.
According to Pecoul, the three-year grant provides a level of flexibility that helps the DNDi continue to develop a healthy, well-balanced portfolio, which includes 20 ongoing projects—10 discovery-stage, four preclinical and six clinical—for four diseases. "It will not be hard to spend the money because it will go to these existing projects and may also go to new projects, as we are always looking into novel compounds and proposals that will enhance our needs-driven portfolio," he says.
The funding is just the latest example of an expanding global awareness of the need for better healthcare and more extensive research into diseases of the developing world. As Gareth Thomas, U.K. International Development Minister, explains it, funding initiatives like the DNDi is critical to fighting global poverty.
"Forgotten and neglected diseases threaten up to half a billion people worldwide," said Thomas. "Developing better and new treatments, and giving people the tools to tackle disease, is vital if we are to address the long-term health, not only of individuals, but of poor nations too."
According to a recent report by Frost & Sullivan on the global vaccine market, a major challenge in emerging economies is the lack of basic healthcare infrastructure—a challenge that has only been addressed by government and aid agencies. Barath Shankar, report author and Frost analyst, suggests that the emergence of public-private partnerships, however, will facilitate efforts to address these shortcomings.
"The top five vaccine manufacturers account for 85.3 percent of vaccine revenues globally in 2005," says Shankar. "This is due to the large share of revenues from developed markets that account for 79.5 percent of the global vaccine revenues. The emerging markets have a large untapped potential that is assisted aid agencies and public-private partnerships."
Pecoul suggests that of the greatest challenge facing healthcare in the developing world is the ability to develop tools of modern science that are adapted to the socioeconomic conditions of patients in these regions.
DNDi works to attract both private and public partners who have specific skills to help to fill the gaps that have existed in R&D for neglected diseases and that have not been adequately addressed by pharma companies or government agencies. One such deal includes a collaborative agreement, signed in April 2005, with Sanofi-Aventis to develop inexpensive drugs for malaria.
But Pecoul also sees a role for people in endemic regions to become more involved and points to the fact that four of DNDi's seven founding partners are research institutions from the developing world—the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation from Brazil, the Indian Council for Medical Research, the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the Ministry of Health in Malaysia—as a sign that people in the developing world are taking a bigger role in their own futures.
"Partnerships like these—which have brought together academic, public and private partners from Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe—should serve as models for future drug development for neglected diseases," Pecoul says.