Neglected Diseases Still Are, Well, Neglected

By Donal G McNeil Jr.Image

Despite much progress in the last 35 years, a new study has found that major gaps persist in the effort to prevent and treat the “neglected diseases” of the poor.

The study, a survey of the 850 new drugs and vaccines approved in the last 12 years, found that only 4 percent were for the 49 diseases the authors consider neglected, including obscure worm and diarrheal diseases and well-known killers like malaria and tuberculosis. Another 4 percent of newly approved products were for AIDS, which the authors do not consider neglected.

The study was done by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, Doctors Without Borders, the World Health Organization’s tropical disease research branch and others, and was published last week by Lancet Global Health. It is a follow-up to a 2002 survey by the same group covering the years 1975 to 1999.

While 4 percent may seem small, the earlier findings were far more bleak: only 1 percent of all pharmaceutical research focused on neglected diseases.

Vaccines, including 21 candidate vaccines for malaria, make up more than half of the new products in development. But new drugs and older drugs in new combinations for treating neglected diseases are further along in clinical trials.

Of the 150,000 trials registered as of December 2011, only 1 percent were for neglected diseases. Most research is still supported by governments or foundations, but almost a quarter of it is now done by private industry “compared with a near standstill” a decade ago, the report said.

Categories that had more new products in development were mental problems, with 16 percent of the total; cancer, 12 percent; heart disease, 8 percent; genitourinary and sex-hormone problems, 7 percent; and digestive diseases, 5 percent.

Source: The New York Times

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