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MEPs pass resolution on R&D for neglected diseases of the developing world

Video guest: Josephine Mwangi

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Saturday, 17 September 2005

MEPs pass resolution on R&D for neglected diseases of the developing world

A resolution calling on the EU to give neglected diseases in developing countries a higher priority in its research programme was passed last week by the European Parliament. John Bowis MEP, health spokesman for the Group of the European People's Party (EPP), gained solid support for his report, which was written in response to a new Commission programme aimed at tackling HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB. The report, adopted at a plenary session in Strasbourg on 8 September, highlights the lack of research that the EU carries out into lesser-known diseases such as sleeping sickness and dengue fever. So far, the pharmaceutical industry has been unable to meet the needs of people with neglected diseases, as often the potential returns for shareholders are unclear. Even if the industry continues to play a major part in the discovery and development of drugs, a much greater pluralism in both the funding and discovery of novel treatments is needed, according to the resolution.

'The European Union is right to be addressing HIV, TB and malaria in the developing world, but there are many other diseases that also merit attention,' says Mr Bowis. The report calls for urgent action to develop new drugs and to make them available to developing countries at affordable prices. It also draws attention to the rapidly increasing number of cases of mental illness in many developing countries. Cost-effective treatments exist for most of these disorders but appropriate mental health legislation, treatment and community care are not the priorities that they should be. Between 1975 and 1999 less than one per cent of new drugs placed on the market were developed for infectious tropical diseases. Patients suffering from parasitic infections such as trachoma or potentially fatal leishmaniasis are often given archaic drugs which can be highly toxic, ineffective or difficult to administer. The Parliament resolution, tabled by the development committee, calls on the Commission to increase the amount of funding available for biomedical research into poverty-related diseases such as malaria and TB, and for specific reference to be made in the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) on funding for research into these diseases. The European Parliament, which wants the umbrella term of neglected diseases to be widened beyond HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, also calls on the Commission to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to conduct both clinical trials and operational and health systems research. The needs of women, children and disabled people must, it argues, be mainstreamed into health policies and related research.

Given the lack of obvious profitability for companies in this field, the report calls for the pharmaceutical industry to be obliged, or offered incentives, to reinvest a percentage of its profits into neglected disease R&D. The resolution recommends establishing a new global medical R&D treaty and incorporating technology transfer into development policies.
The resolution coincided with the publication of a new report by a team from the London School of Economics Health and Social Care research centre, led by Dr Mary Moran. It argues that a profound change in research into ten so-called 'neglected diseases', including malaria, tuberculosis (TB), leprosy and sleeping sickness, could result in at least eight new drugs being developed by 2010. Moreover, the report highlights that around three-quarters of these research projects are being conducted under the umbrella of public-private partnerships, demonstrating that PPPs have been a critical driver of this considerable increase in activity, and recommending that policy makers should support them when it comes to neglected disease research and development.