April 20, 2006

Governments told: spend more on “neglected” diseases

By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA (Reuters) - Governments rather than industry pay for
most drug development and should ensure more money is spent on
fighting diseases such as malaria that afflict poor countries,
a health advocacy group said on Thursday.

The Global Forum for Health Research found that once tax
and other subsidies are accounted for, the public sector
finances 84 percent of global research and development in the
health sector, private industry 12 percent and non-profit
donors 4 percent.

"The public sector is by far the largest investor globally
in basic research to discover important new drugs and
vaccines," Donald Light, a professor at the University of
Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, said in a report for the

This gives governments the leverage to push for more
development of drugs for so-called neglected diseases which
kill millions of people each year, the report said. The Forum's
aim is to campaign for more research devoted to improving the
health of people in developing countries.

International experts estimate only 10 percent of the
world's resources for health research are spent on solving the
health problems of developing countries, where 90 percent of
curable diseases are found, it said.

"Governments are going to have to get involved in this
area," Stephen Matlin, the Geneva-based group's executive
director, told a news briefing. "The current levels of funding
won't be enough."

Western countries should spend more public money on
treatments for tuberculosis, parasitic diseases and other
ailments, and contribute more to public-private ventures that
share costs and risks between governments, firms and charitable
groups, Matlin said.

Groups like OneWorld Health, the Medicines for Malaria
Venture, and the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development will
need much more funding because of the high cost of late-stage
clinical trials for their medicines, he said.

"We probably need something that is perhaps 5 to 10 times
larger than the current size of investment (from the public
sector)," Matlin said.

In nominal terms, the private sector is the biggest
financier of worldwide health research, accounting for about 48
percent of the more than $100 billion spent each year.

But factoring in tax breaks and indirect support like
government-funded laboratories and researcher training, private
industry's actual net R&D costs were "about one-tenth the
amount widely claimed," Light said.