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Drug Development Lags for Neglected Diseases

FILE - Laboratory technician at a Sanofi-Pasteur production plant manufacturing Panenza, Val-de-Reuil, western Paris.
Of the 850 new drugs and vaccines approved for all diseases over the past decade, only 37 were for so-called neglected diseases: malaria, TB, chagas, sleeping sickness and other diseases of poverty. A new study published in The Lancet Global Health highlights what its authors call a 'fatal imbalance' in research and development of treatments for the world's poorest patients.

Neglected diseases — prevalent primarily in poor countries — account for more than 11 percent of the global disease burden, and are a leading cause of mortality, chronic disability, and poverty. Examining recent progress toward fighting these diseases, researchers from the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, Doctors Without Borders and other medical groups found only a handful of clinical trials underway or in development.

The authors acknowledge that pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have little financial incentive to invest R & D funds in finding treatments or cures for neglected diseases, and point to a failure of public policy to encourage them. They conclude, "Despite substantial political attention towards the burden of neglected diseases, we detected no evidence of a substantial improvement in research and development activity compared with previous decades."