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Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative Launched in Geneva

The Nobel Prize-winning aid group Doctors Without Borders and five others have set up the first not-for-profit drug research organization in Geneva to tackle the world's most neglected diseases affecting the poorest of the poor.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, launched in Geneva, says it will harness cutting-edge science to develop medicines to treat people with life-threatening tropical diseases.

Research institutes from Brazil, France, India, Kenya, and Malaysia have joined the Doctors Without Borders organization to seek cures for diseases afflicting the poor, which they say, have been forgotten by commercial drug companies.

The initiative's spokeswoman, Jaya Banerji, says it will spend around $250 million over the next decade to develop needed drugs to treat some of the most neglected diseases, such as sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. These three diseases alone threaten an estimated 350 million people every year.

"There are no new drugs available to treat these diseases. The drugs that are available are old, antiquated. They are toxic. They are difficult to deliver, and what we are trying to do is to develop drugs for these diseases that will make it easier for patients to take them," she said.

The World Health Organization says that between 300,000 to 500,000 people in 36 African countries suffer from sleeping sickness, a disease carried by the tsetse fly. Leishmaniasis is carried by the sandfly, and afflicts 12 million people, mainly in Asia and Brazil. It causes weight loss, enlargement of the spleen and liver, and anemia.

Chagas disease affects mainly South America, and is carried by blood-sucking insects that invade most organs of the body, often causing heart and intestinal damage and progressive weakness.

Ms. Banerji says Doctors Without Borders is using its Nobel Prize money to help fund the initiative, but it is seeking cooperation on a global scale.

"It is hoping to give around $5 million to $7 million a year for the first five years. The rest of the money, which is what we will need for projects, that is drug ideas that need to be researched and developed, that we will actually fundraise on a project-by-project basis."

Ms. Banerji says the initiative will also look to governments and pharmaceutical companies to help provide expertise and information to develop these new drugs.