Merck

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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

Old drug could be a big new deal for fight against malaria | 

Flickr, Gustavo

This scientific finding got a little bit of media attention, but deserves more:

A cheap drug, called Ivermectin (or brand name Mectizan), that Merck originally made for dogs may become a useful new weapon against one of the world’s biggest killers, malaria.

It was discovered many years ago that this drug also works against other parasitic worms that cause river blindness (onchocerciasis) and elephantiasis (filariasis). Merck, apparently unaware that it is supposed to be an evil drug company, has for more than 15 years been donating this drug to poor countries in Africa to fight these debilitating diseases.

Malaria is also caused by a parasite. In a study funded by a Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations grant, researchers at Colorado State University explored if the drug might also work against the malaria bug.

The study is published in this week’s American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (which you can’t read because the scientific publishing community thinks they can get you pay to read it … and which may account for the relatively low number of news articles on this amazing discovery).

Here are a few other reports of note on this:

Karen Grepin’s Global Health Blog Maybe Now People Will Care About Onchocerciasis

Bill Brieger’s Malaria Free Future blog Novel idea, but can it be scaled?