Drugs to fight neglected diseases

Medicines needed to treat diseases that afflict millions

Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) can be life-changing for people with HIV. Significant progress has been made in supplying ARVs to people in low-resource settings, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 8 million HIV-positive people in low- and middle-income countries have access to ARVs. However, WHO also estimates that only half of the people who need treatment with ARVs get the drugs.

The successful development of ARVs is one example of both the promise and the challenge of developing medicines to treat the world’s most devastating illnesses. While there have been major advances in recent years, drugs for many diseases that disproportionately affect the poor are often expensive, outdated, or ineffective. And for diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria, emerging resistance to current drug treatment is a growing concern. Moreover, research and development of new medicines to treat diseases that primarily affect developing regions—such as malaria, TB, Chagas, and sleeping sickness—often fail to gain support from market-driven sources.

A clear need

The need for medicines to treat these and other neglected diseases is clear. Neglected tropical diseases such as leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, and river blindness affect one billion people worldwide. The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative reports that neglected tropical diseases and TB account for 11.4 percent of the global disease burden. Yet, between 1975 and 2004, only 1.3 percent of approved new drugs were specifically developed to treat these diseases.

But there has been progress in understanding many diseases that affect the world’s poor. In turn, some drug therapies have advanced. New treatments for visceral leishmaniasis are contributing to elimination programs worldwide. Millions of new-and-improved malaria treatments have been delivered to people in need, and new malaria drugs are being approved by global regulatory authorities. Shorter TB treatment regimens under development have the potential to significantly reduce the cost of treatment. With support from and collaboration between the public and private sectors, research and development could lead to the production of new drugs to alleviate suffering and prolong life worldwide.

For more information on the above data, see:

World Health Organization (WHO). Antiretroviral therapy.

Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative. Diseases & Projects.

Medicines for Malaria Venture. Achievements.

TB Alliance. Our pipeline.

Global Health Technologies Coalition and Policy Cures. Saving lives and creating impact: Why investing in global health research works.

UNAIDS. Together we will end AIDS.

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