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As 2015 draws to a close, the Global Health Technologies Coalition is reflecting on the past year in global health innovation.

December 22, 2015 by Kat Kelley

As 2015 draws to a close, the Global Health Technologies Coalition is reflecting on the past year in global health innovation.

Below, in no particular order, are our picks for the top global health research and development (R&D) news and stories that shaped 2015.

First ever vaccine against dengue virus approved

The world’s first vaccine against dengue fever was approved by the national regulatory authority of Mexico, marking an important initial step in preventing this mosquito-borne infection, which is spreading worldwide. Nearly half the world’s population now lives in dengue-endemic countries, and an estimated 390 million infections occur each year. The vaccine’s developer Sanofi spent over 20 years and US$1.65 billion developing the vaccine and is now pursuing regulatory approval in 19 other countries. Sanofi has stated it will make the vaccine available for sale at a “fair, affordable, equitable, and sustainable price.”

NIH finally receives funding boost

Christmas came early for the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). After years of stagnated funding, NIH—the world’s leading public funder of neglected disease R&D—will finally receive a funding boost in 2016. In the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending package, Congress approved a $2 billion—nearly 7 percent—increase in funding for NIH from $30 billion to $32 billion. NIH has lost 22 percent of its purchasing power since 2003 due to inflation, so this boost will provide critically-needed funding for the agency to continue to build upon its record of leadership in global health R&D.

Photo: PATH/Satvir Malhotra
Photo: PATH/Satvir Malhotra

Availability of the first child-friendly, appropriately-dosed TB medicines announced

Health workers will soon have a critically-needed new tool to improve treatment for the one million children infected with tuberculosis (TB) each year. In November, TB Alliance and partners announced that the first-ever appropriate, child-friendly tuberculosis (TB) medicine in the correct dose will be available in early 2016. At the moment, TB medicines are not available in appropriate doses for children, so parents must crush or cut the pills to administer. This arduous process—combined with the bitter taste—leads to poor adherence. The new treatments are strawberry- and raspberry-flavored, appropriately-dosed versions of the three most commonly used TB medicines. These new treatments are expected to significantly improve TB treatment and adherence among children.

Global Health Innovation Act passes House

An important new piece of global health legislation championed by GHTC—the Global Health Innovation Act—passed the US House of Representatives earlier this month. This legislation would strengthen global health R&D programming at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) by directing USAID to incorporate R&D across its global health programming and requiring the agency to report annually to Congress on its R&D programs and activities. In 2016 the hard work will begin again to get the Senate to introduce and pass companion legislation so the bill can move another step closer to becoming US law.

Ebola product development advanced at lightning speed

After years of slow and stunted progress in the development of drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tools to fight Ebola, product development jumped forward by leaps and bounds in 2015. Thanks to the collaboration of developers, regulatory agencies, and the World Health Organization, six Ebola diagnostics were developed and deployed in West Africa under emergency measures, early-stage clinical trials are underway for at least two Ebola drug candidates with others in development, and at least 15 vaccine candidates are in development with two candidates undergoing Phase II/III trials. The most advanced vaccine candidate VSV-EBOV was shown to offer near-total protection, according to preliminary data analysis from the trials. While these products arrived too late to have a major impact during the epidemic, the accelerated development approaches and mechanisms used may be able to be emulated to speed product development in the future.

New pediatric malaria treatment receives positive scientific opinion paving path for regulatory approval

A new pediatric malaria medicine— Pyramax® Granules—will soon be available for children worldwide. In November, Pyramax® Granules received a positive scientific opinion from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) under Article 58, a mechanism which facilitates regulatory approval of the product in malaria-endemic countries. The medicine, which was developed by Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) in partnership with Shin Poong Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd, is a combination of two antimalarials and is designed to be easy for children to consume. It is taken in liquid form and is flavored to mask the bitter taste. Next, MMV and Shin Poong will work to introduce Pyramax® Granules as well as Pyramax®, the tablet version which is suitable for adults, in malaria-endemic countries.

Several promising global health products advancing through development

The pipeline of global health technologies is growing and maturing with several exciting products moving through critical development stages. For example, a new medicine for drug-resistant TB became the first new TB drug to advance into clinical trials in six years when it entered Phase I trials in February, a vaginal microbicide containing a novel antiretroviral drug to prevent HIV entered Phase I trials in November, a drug candidate with the potential to become the first ever, oral-only, single-dose treatment for sleeping sickness completed Phase I trials in September, and a microbicide vaginal ring is completing Phase II trials with results expected in early 2016. Due to increased attention and investment over the last 15 years, there are now nearly 500 neglected disease product candidates in the pipeline.

Global goals recognize importance of health R&D

In September, global leaders ratified a new set of global goals, called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will guide global development efforts for the next 15 years. GHTC was excited to see these goals recognize the importance of global health R&D with inclusion of a target supporting R&D of vaccines and medicines for diseases primarily affecting developing nations. It’s been broadly recognized that we cannot reach the ambitious SDG health targets—to reduce maternal and child mortality and end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, TB, and neglected tropical diseases— by 2030 with the health technologies we have today. Now that the goals and targets are in place, accountability is key. We must ensure the SDGs translate into greater investment and political commitment from all nations to catalyze development of the next generation of health technologies needed to transform global health.

About the author

Kat KelleyGHTC

Kat Kelly is a senior program assistant at GHTC who supports GHTC's communications and member engagement activities.