Malaria, Tuberculosisand leprosy, are the world's most neglected diseases along with diseases such as kala azar(leishmaniasis),sleeping sickness( human African trypanosomiasis)and Chagas disease, that afflict the deeply impoverished in developing countries and account for 90% of the global disease burden however ironically, a mere 10% of global health research is devoted to these diseases.
In a laudable initiative, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Nobel Prize winning Organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and four eminent public research institutes from around the world have joined forces to address the lack of research and development in drugs for
neglected diseases.This Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative or DNDi, will work in close collaboration with WHO/TDR (Tropical Disease Research) program (1).
"Parasites don't make headline news and they don't make a profit, so despite TDR's successes working with both the private and public sector, it has been difficult to find partners and increased investment for neglected diseases over the years," said Dr Carlos Morel, TDR (Tropical
Disease Research) Director. "We are excited about collaborating with DNDi and hope that it will play a key role in raising awareness and investment and in speeding up the process of turning research into usable drugs for the most neglected diseases."
"Millions die each year from lack of effective, affordable drugs for curable tropical diseases," said Bernard Pecoul, Director of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. In a press release from WHO it said that the world's most neglected patients desperately need new,
affordable, accessible and effective drugs, but their diseases do not represent a market profitable enough to attract Research and Development (R&D). Investment in drugs for neglected diseases is a mere trickle compared to the large amount invested in R&D for possible blockbuster
drugs for diseases like cancer and hypertension, or lifestyle disorders such as impotence, obesity and baldness.
Some organizations from across the world are looking for solutions to ease the plight of the poor suffering from tropical diseases. DNDi's six founding partners are primarily from the public sector and have already been working tirelessly in the field of public health and research. As
DNDi, they will work with WHO/TDR, and use their existing capacity and global resources to address the needs of people suffering from neglected diseases by taking on drug development projects that others are unable or unwilling to pursue. DNDi, like WHO/TDR, will seek to strengthen existing R&D capacity in developing countries affected by the diseases.
Prof N.K. Ganguly, Director-General ICMR, an active member of DNDi's Founding Partners group, explained, "India is an example of a country with both research and manufacturing capacity. Basically, products can be researched and manufactured in one developing country for use in another. Thus, it is crucial to collaborate across borders to ensure that those who need the drugs get them from those of us who can research and produce them."
DNDi has already initiated a successful worldwide call for research proposals and many scientists around the world are already researching new possibilities in drugs for neglected diseases. Theplan is that Over a 12 year period, DNDi will have a balanced project portfolio and six to
seven projects registered for Chagas disease, sleeping sickness and kala - azar. The DNDi will be registered as a not-for-profit Organization in Geneva on 3 July 2003.
(1) UNDP/ World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Disease