BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

January 21, 2020

Research Roundup: Lack of R&D to combat AMR, first diagnostic for new virus from China, and WHO's urgent global health challenges for the decade

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Patrick McKern

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According to a report by the AMR Industry Alliance, a private sector coalition, there is a “concerning shortfall” in investment in late-stage research and development (R&D) to battle antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Though in 2018 the Alliance’s members invested US$1.6 billion in R&D for antibiotics, vaccines, and disease diagnostics needed to tackle AMR,—a figure which dropped by one-third between 2016 and 2018—the report cited this investment as likely insufficient to deliver the tools needed to address growing AMR. It also cited a lack of access to quality and responsibly manufactured antibiotics as a significant challenge in low- and middle-income countries. The report calls on the public sector to provide greater R&D investment, particularly for later-stage research, and advance policy solutions like incentives to spur greater R&D investment and improve access. According to the United Nations, AMR is estimated to result in 700,000 deaths annually, a figure that is forecast to increase to 10 million by 2050.

German researchers have developed the first diagnostic test for a new coronavirus that has emerged in central China. The virus was first detected in the city of Wuhan last year and has since sickened dozens of people with recent cases reported in Japan and Thailand. The diagnostic test developed at the Institute for Virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital will allow labs to reliably diagnose the new coronavirus “in a very short period of time,” according to its developers. The test protocol is being made available by the World Health Organization (WHO), and laboratories will be able to order a molecule from the German team to compare patient samples with a positive control. Until now, doctors have only been able to perform a general virus test and then had to sequence and interpret the genome—a difficult task for smaller labs, for facilities in countries where it’s not easy to transport samples or staff aren’t trained thoroughly, or those handling a large number of patients who need to be tested.

Last week, WHO published its list of urgent global health challenges facing the next decade, which included climate change, infectious diseases, anti-vaxxers, and AMR, among other challenges. The list was developed with input from experts around the world and “reflects a deep concern that leaders are not investing enough resources in core health priorities & systems, putting lives & economies in jeopardy," according to a tweet by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Last year, WHO published a list of ten global health threats for the year 2019 which also included climate change, AMR, weak primary health care, and vaccine hesitancy. WHO noted that these challenges demand a response from the health sector, governments, communities, and international organizations.

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