Gates initiative on “neglected diseases” advances cause, but neglects key questions | 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced, together with more than a dozen drug makers and others, a new initiative aimed at fighting a select group of mostly developing world ailments called “neglected tropical diseases” such as river blindness, parasitic elephantiasis and others.

Uniting to Combat NTDs

These diseases affect an estimated 1.4 billion people, killing perhaps half a million a year, but have not been high on the global health radar screen. As Dr. Peter Hotez writes for Huffington Post, for only 50 cents per child many of these diseases may now be eliminated.

The new public-private initiative aims to rid the world of 10 of these diseases by 2020.

It’s widely regarded as a positive step forward for global health, but there are some important questions that went unanswered:

  1. What is a neglected disease? This is actually a hotly debated question in global health circles right now.
  2. Many think the solution to fighting diseases of poverty should be to focus on poverty as much as on disease. Will this initiative get at the root problem or just address symptoms?

We’ll get back to the neglected issues of neglected diseases in a bit. First, more on the news:

For this initiative called the London Declaration on Neglected Diseases, the Gates Foundation pledged $363 million to support research into new treatments. Drug makers like GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Johnson & Johnson and others have likewise pledged to step up research as well as to expand donation programs of medications to poor countries.

Others involved in the initiative include the World Bank, the United Arab Emirates as well as the U.S. and U.K. governments The total estimated commitment is $785 million. Continue reading

PATH acquires drug company to speed fight on neglected diseases | 

Seattle-based PATH announced today that it is acquiring the non-profit drug company OneWorld Health.

OneWorld Health, which will continue to operate from its headquarters in San Francisco, was created in 2000 as the first non-profit pharmaceutical company and has been focused from the beginning on creating drugs and vaccines for use in poor countries.

“I don’t think we could have considered trying to partner with a for-profit drug company,” said Hugh Chang, head of special projects at PATH who will act as interim chief of drug development for the PATH-OneWorld Health merger. “That would have been a misalignment in terms of our missions.”

PATH, launched in the late 1970s in Seattle initially focused on women’s health issues, has grown into one of the largest players in the global health arena — due largely to its key role administering and carrying out many well-funded projects sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Known for its talent at bringing together public and private partners in innovative ways to solve health problems in poor countries, this is the first time PATH will have a direct role in developing drugs.

In the past, PATH has had to spend a lot of time and effort working to convince drug makers to join in the fight against neglected diseases. Now it is a drug maker. Continue reading