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."