By Natalie Grover and Jennifer Rigby
LONDON – GSK and Novartis on Thursday reinforced commitments to address neglected tropical diseases, as world leaders and health experts gather in Rwanda to discuss ways to better combat illnesses affecting more than a billion people, mostly in impoverished communities.
The intention is to spur a renewed effort to address some 20 diseases that have been eradicated in the developed world – ranging from leprosy to rabies – after the work in these areas was knocked off track by the economic toll of the pandemic.
GSK pledged to spend 1 billion pounds ($1.23 billion) over the next decade on developing medicines and vaccines to tackle neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), as well as infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV, which disproportionately affect lower-income countries.
The London-based company, which pioneered the first malaria vaccine, has carved out and will invest in a specific global health unit that will not generate a profit for GSK. It has more than 30 drugs and vaccines in its pipeline for the effort, including products designed to deal with antimicrobial resistance.
Swiss drugmaker Novartis has vowed to spend $250 million over the next five years to develop interventions to tackle NTDs and malaria.
Of that, $100 million has been earmarked for Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, dengue and cryptosporidiosis. The remainder has been set aside to address malaria, which killed more than half a million people in 2020, most of them children under the age of five in the poorest parts of Africa.
“Large medicine donations without sustainable supply nor innovation investments are ill-suited to the challenge of NTD control,” said Dr. Bernard Pecoul, executive director of Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a non-profit research and development organization.
“With climate change set to increase the burden of NTDs … and to hit the most vulnerable hardest,” he said, “now is the time to make a real commitment to research and development for NTDs.”
($1 = 0.8153 pound)