UAE joins big pharma, Bill Gates to fight tropical diseases

Bill Gates is the chairman of technology giant Microsoft

Bill Gates is the chairman of technology giant Microsoft

GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi and other healthcare companies are joining forces with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UAE and other governments to fight so-called neglected tropical diseases such as leprosy.

Partners in the initiative, including 13 manufacturers of drugs or medical equipment, pledged to come up with new products and infrastructure to improve the lives of the 1.4 billion people affected by 10 illnesses such as visceral leishmaniasis, river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, the manufacturers said in a joint statement today.

The group will include the World Bank, the United Arab Emirates, US and UK governments and global health organizations working to accelerate progress in treating debilitating and fatal illnesses that thrive in hot and humid conditions.

Commitments total $785m for research, development and distribution, including $363m from the foundation over five years for research, the partners said.

“We pledge to work hand-in-hand to revolutionize the way we fight these diseases,” Andrew Witty, the chief executive officer of London-based Glaxo who was acting as spokesman for the drugmakers, said in the statement in advance of a press conference in the UK capital.

Visceral leishmaniasis, caused by a parasite attacking the spleen and liver, can lead to death within two years if left untreated, according to the World Health Organization. Leprosy, transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth of untreated patients, can cause nerve damage, leading to muscle weakness and atrophy as well as permanent disabilities.

The project is part of the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work on treating neglected tropical diseases in the past decade. The foundation pledged on Jan 26 to provide $750m in grants over six years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to make up for cutbacks in government donations.

Participants in the neglected tropical diseases project promised to sustain or expand existing drug donations to meet demand through 2020, the group said on Monday. They also committed to sharing expertise and compounds to speed up the search for new treatments. The program is intended to follow goals set out in the WHO’s 2020 Roadmap on Neglected Tropical Diseases.

“The efforts of WHO, researchers, partners and the contributions of the industry have changed the face of neglected tropical diseases,” WHO Director General Margaret Chan said in the statement. “These ancient diseases are now being brought to their knees with stunning speed.”

The WHO's goals are "completely unachievable" without today's effort, said Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft Corp. who is co-chairman of foundation, in an interview.

"It used to be that people would commit to a donation but nobody would order the drug because there wasn't money to do the delivery," Gates said. "Here, because you've got delivery money being committed and manufacturing money being committed, every year the amount of people who get this mass drug administration is going to be ten times what it's been. Drug donations are being dramatically increased."

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