December 17, 2017

Celebrating ten years of GHTC & a decade of progress in global health innovation

Marissa Chmiola
Communications Officer

There is no doubt that the past decade has brought transformative breakthroughs in global health innovation, from new medicines, to combatting leading child killers like malaria and tuberculosis (TB), to interventions that are making an AIDS-free generation possible. These game changers have saved millions of lives and helped unlock better health and opportunity for people around the world.

The Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) spent this past decade standing side-by-side in partnership with scientists and innovators, working to ensure they have the resources and supportive policies needed to advance innovation that truly drives impact. As we close out our tenth anniversary year and mark our first decade of advocacy, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on our shared progress and celebrate the headlines and moments that shaped global health research and development (R&D) over the past decade.

Here are ten highlights:

Could pills taken daily prevent HIV infection? That was a key question on researchers and activists minds in the early 2000s.By the end of the decade, the evidence pointed to yes. In 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the antiretroviral drug Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection. While it took several more years for PrEP to begin to be approved and introduced in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), it has proved a powerful new tool in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

Revolutionary. Simple. Empowering. These are words that have been used to describe Sayana Press, an all-in-one injectable contraceptive developed by GHTC member PATH. Sayana Press combines a long-acting contraceptive with the easy-to-use Uniject injection system that involves minimal training, making it an especially suitable tool for low-resource settings and for women to self-administer. Since its introduction in 2014, more than 1 million doses of Sayana Press have been delivered to women worldwide, giving them greater power and autonomy over their reproductive health.

Despite the fact that over 70 percent of all malaria deaths are children, before 2009 there was not a single high-quality malaria drug designed for kids. Instead, parents would crush adult tablets in what amounted to a daily struggle to provide an accurate dose as well as convince their kids to swallow these bitter tasting pills. This changed with the introduction of Coartem Dispersible, the first malaria medicine designed for children. Developed by GHTC member Medicines for Malaria Ventures, the medicine is affordable, easy-to-administer, sweet-tasting, and dosed for children. As of 2016, over 300 million treatments have been distributed worldwide, saving an estimated 750,000 lives.

For more than a century, meningitis has ravaged a swath of the African continent known as the “meningitis belt,” killing one in ten people it sickened. But thanks to the efforts of a coalition of partners, including GHTC member PATH, we’ve stopped deadly meningitis A epidemics in their tracks. In 2010, MenAfriVac—a low-cost vaccine against mengingitis A—was introduced in Africa. Since then, more than 270 million people in 26 countries have been vaccinated, and thankfully, meningitis A is becoming a disease of the past.

HIV/AIDS remains one of the greatest threats to women’s health globally, yet women and girls still lack the range of tools they need to protect themselves. Thanks to over a decade of effort by a unique partnership led by GHTC member the International Partnership for Microbicides, the future looks different. The partnership has advanced a new woman-center HIV prevention tool: a monthly, vaginal microbicide ring that deliver antiretroviral drugs. The groundbreaking new tool was found to reduce HIV risk in women in late-stage clinical trials in 2016, and it is now under regulatory review and poised for potential introduction worldwide.

For parents with kids suffering from TB, getting their child to take multiple pills a day for months was a serious struggle, from trying to split up pills, to achieving the right dosage, to convincing children to swallow bitter tasting medicine. In 2016, this process became easier with the introduction of the first kid-friendly TB drugs. Developed by GHTC member TB Alliance, the drugs are appropriately dosed for children, dissolvable in water, and fruit-flavored to appeal to children. Already close to 80 countries, have adopted this improved treatment, with 700,000 courses ordered.

Malaria has plagued humanity for tens of thousands of years. Fortunately, this past decade has brought a number of new and improved tools and approaches to tackle this age-old scourge, including the world’s first approved malaria vaccine, Mosquirix. In 2017, the World Health Organization announced plans to pilot the vaccine—developed by GHTC member PATH—in sub-Saharan Africa. While developing a high-efficacy vaccine against malaria has proved challenging due to the parasite’s complexity, Mosquirix, which reduced the rate of infection in children by 39 percent in clinical trials, is an important scientific breakthrough, and health officials hope it will prove a valuable addition in fighting malaria used alongside existing interventions.

In 2014, the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak caught the global community unaware and unprepared, devastating nations in Western Africa. While health workers went to work in the field to contain the immediate crisis, scientists went to work in their labs to develop a vaccine to prevent future epidemics. Thanks to research on Ebola vaccines that had been undertaken in the early 2000s, researchers were able to accelerate the leading Ebola vaccine candidate—RVSV-ZEBOV—from preclinical testing to phase III trials in less than two years. In 2016, it was announced that the vaccine was found nearly 100 percent effective in these trials. The vaccine could be approved by the FDA as early as 2019.

More than two billion people worldwide suffer from hidden hunger—a condition characterized by deficiencies in micronutrients such as zinc, iron, and Vitamin A, which can cause stunted growth, blindness, and learning disabilities. In the 1990s, a young economist Howarth Bouis had a kernel of an idea: What if we could create better crops to provide better nutrition? His answer was biofortification, a process of naturally breeding sustenance crops so they are rich in micronutrients. After years of proof of concept research, in 2009, the nonprofit he founded—GHTC member HarvestPlus—introduced its first wave of crops in LMICs, providing nutrient-rich food for people in need.

For decades, diagnosing multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-B) meant using older testing methods that took weeks to deliver results and required expensive laboratory equipment. In 2010, this began to change with the introduction of the Xpert MTB/RIF test, an automated diagnostic test developed by GHTC member FIND, which does not require microscopes or a laboratory, involves very little training to operate, and can deliver results in less than two hours, start to finish. FIND and partners will soon introduce a next-generation version—the Genexpert Omni—that is smaller, more portable, and battery-operated, which should further expand access to improved TB diagnosis.

View a slideshow of more moments and milestones in global health R&D over the past decade.

Here’s to ten more years of progress!

At GHTC, we are proud to work with so many believers, innovators, and changemakers who are driving progress in global health. As we embark on 2018 and beyond, we recommit to continuing this momentum and look forward to another decade of advancing innovation to save lives.