by Morgan McCloskey, Global Health Intern and Ellie Dehoney, Vice President of Policy and Programs at Research!America. This entry was originally posted as a guest contribution to the USAID IMPACT Blog.
In the past decade, U.S. investments in science, technology and innovation have led to critical breakthroughs in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of deadly global diseases. We now have a meningitis vaccine for African populations, a new test that can quickly diagnose drug-resistant TB and promising data indicating that a vaccine could prevent HIV infection. We have developed desperately needed new drugs for neglected diseases and have determined pathways to expand access to treatment for millions through programs like PEPFAR and USAID’s Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) program. Continue reading →
April 25 is World Malaria Day, and this year’s theme is “Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria.” More than half of the world’s population is at risk for malaria, a potentially fatal disease that is transmitted through mosquitoes. Strong investments in malaria research and programming have helped reduce global malaria mortality rates by 26% since 2000, and 50 countries are on track to reduce malaria cases by 75% by 2015. World Malaria Day is an opportunity to celebrate these successes and raise awareness of the investments that are still needed to fight this life-threatening disease.
Despite the hard-won progress made against malaria, approximately 660,000 people die from this disease every year, and drug-resistant strains are emerging in all corners of the globe. Particularly worrisome is malaria that is resistant to artemisinin, one of today’s most widely used antimalarial drugs. Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, highlighted this issue in a public hearing on drug-resistant infections earlier this week. He cautioned that the continuing spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria would be a significant setback for global control efforts. Freiden also noted that many antimalarial drugs currently in the research pipeline are arteminisin-based, so widespread resistance could render these drugs ineffective before they are even brought to market.
Drug resistance has complicated the battle against malaria, but it by no means has ended that battle. At the World Malaria Day congressional briefing sponsored by the Senate Caucus on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, panelists discussed several exciting new research initiatives ranging from innovative drug combinations to new diagnostic tools that could help clinicians detect and track drug resistance in malaria patients. A theme throughout was the importance of public-private collaboration, as evidenced by the participation of industry leaders such as Exxon Mobil, NGOs and U.S. government agency officials. Other event highlights included remarks by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. John Boozman, OD (R-AR), and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), who affirmed the bipartisan support for global efforts to combat malaria. Continued U.S. government investment in malaria control efforts, particularly in research to develop new antimalarial tools, is essential if we are to win the global battle to eliminate this life-threatening disease.
—Morgan McCloskey, global health intern
An endeavor twelve years in the making, University of California, Berkeley researchers are celebrating a breakthrough in synthetic biology and malaria treatment. A research team led by chemical engineer Jay Keasling began with a straightforward—though not easy—goal of genetically reprogramming a simple single celled organism, yeast, so that it would produce a chemical compound normally only found in the sweet wormwood plant. This compound is the starting material for one of the most effective anti-malaria medications available on the market. Yet, because the compound was derived from a plant that grows in select areas around the world, the availability and price were inconsistent. Continue reading →
On December 3, Policy Cures released its fifth annual G-FINDER report, a comprehensive survey of funding for research and development for neglected diseases. The report tracks global public, private and philanthropic investments into R&D for 31 diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and NTDs. In positive news, this year’s report shows that total funding has actually increased by $443 million since 2007.
The report demonstrates that government funding, which accounts for over two-thirds of all investment, is increasingly going toward basic academic research, rather than product development. Research!America believes it is vital that the entire research pipeline be fully funded. Basic research will help us understand the best ways to tackle these neglected diseases and give us a better understanding of disease and the human body. However, we also need robust funding for the development of urgently needed tools like drugs, vaccines and diagnostics. This urgency is worsened by the fact that private and philanthropic investments in product development for NTDs have also decreased.
Because NTDs disproportionately affect the “bottom billion” or individuals earning less than $1.25 per day, there is essentially no market demand for new NTD tools, so the private sector is unlikely to fund these projects. Dr. Moran, director of Policy Cures, believes that governments must step up to the plate, saying that “if [governments] want products for neglected diseases, they must fund product development as well as basic research.”
-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern
On September 21st, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) announced that the Senate Malaria Working Group was turning into an official Senate congressional caucus focused on combating 17 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in addition to malaria. With NTDs affecting over 1.4 billion people worldwide and documented cases of NTDs here in the U.S., this commitment to finding new solutions is good news. Past U.S. government involvement in the fight against NTDs has yielded promising results. The National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense have funded crucial basic research for NTDs. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have implemented strong surveillance programs and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s NTD Program has made remarkable progress toward controlling the spread of several NTDs with existing treatments. However, these programs are constrained by the limits of existing tools and continued funding is needed to advance NTD prevention and control. Some of the most commonly used drugs are not effective or have toxic side effects, resulting in unnecessary complications or the need for repeat doses. Vaccines and adequate diagnostic tools are also lacking for many of these diseases. While continuing to treat these diseases on the ground, research to develop new tools is vital. More effective drugs and diagnostics will improve current treatment and control programs, while new vaccines could eliminate the threat of NTDs altogether. Investment into NTD research to develop these new prevention and treatment methods is essential for a successful global fight against NTDs. Members of Congress are recognizing the importance of combating NTDs. As advocates, researchers and implementers, we need to continue to make our voices heard for the health and prosperity of Americans and people worldwide.
-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern
Research!America’s report on sequestration detailed the devastating impact that the sequester, or across-the-board cuts that are scheduled to take place in 2013, will have on federally funded research to improve health. Now, a recent report by amfAR trains the focus of sequestration on global health.
Just as we found, amfAR reaches the same conclusion: Sequestration isn’t worth the cost.
The cuts would save $689 million — or 0.63% of the required deficit reduction for FY13. And at what cost?
- HIV/AIDS treatment for 273,000 fewer people, potentially leading to 62,000 more deaths
- Malaria treatment for 3.7 million fewer people, potentially leading to nearly 6,000 more deaths
- TB treatment for 65,000 fewer people, potentially leading to 8,000 more deaths
- Reduced funding for the GAVI Alliance, potentially resulting in 13,000 more deaths from diptheria, tetanus, pertussis, hib and hepatitis B
That’s hardly all. Besides an increase in the death rate, critical interventions will never get a chance to prevent disease: antiretroviral drugs that prevent transmission of HIV from a pregnant mother to her child and insecticide-treated nets to prevent bites from malaria-infected mosquitoes.
And that has consequences further down the line, the report notes.
“The savings achieved in across-the-board cuts in global health funding will have a negligible impact on deficit reduction,” the report states, “but will adversely affect the lives of millions of men, women and children worldwide, resulting in substantial human suffering and squandering of opportunities to build on successes in U.S. global health programming.”
Your voice can make a difference, however. Click here to contact your representatives, and tell them that sequestration is an unacceptable outcome.
amfAR is a Research!America member.