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Drug Industry, Nonprofits Join Forces To Fight World’s Neglected Diseases

November 11, 2009

Drug companies and nonprofit organizations are joining forces to develop new drugs and vaccines to target so-called “neglected” diseases that claim millions of lives in the developing world each year. Those hard-to-treat diseases include malaria, tuberculosis, dengue fever, and other conditions. That’s the topic of the cover story scheduled for the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

C&EN Senior Editor Lisa Jarvis explains that just a decade ago major pharmaceutical companies had largely abandoned developing treatments for these neglected diseases. But as the need for new drugs became increasingly apparent, they did an about-face. Malaria and tuberculosis each cause more than 1 million deaths each year. Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne infection, causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year and its rate of infection is rising dramatically. A growing number of scientists are concerned that global warming will translate into explosive growth in these and other tropical diseases.

The article describes how public-private partnerships between drug companies, nonprofits, and philanthropists are springing up to address this problem, particularly the wide gap between drug need and availability. But challenges remain, including who will pay for the drugs and how they will be distributed to patients in remote areas. Even though drug companies can expect to profit little from these ventures, a growing number see it as good business and are excited about a steady stream of new drug candidates, the article notes.

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