May 20, 2019

Research Roundup: WHO unveils online resource to guide neglected disease R&D, major funding announcements for snakebite research, and TB Alliance awarded grants to develop TB drug candidates

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

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Last week, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) new Science Division unveiled a Health Product Profile Directory—an online resource to guide the research and development of new technologies to combat neglected diseases and other health threats, including antimicrobial resistance and diseases that pose a pandemic threat. The Health Product Profile Directory is a free, searchable database of target product profiles for needed health products to tackle the world’s most pressing global health issues. Each product profile outlines eight to ten key characteristics for development of various health products, including vaccines, medicines, and diagnostics. The directory currently contains 196 product profiles developed by 24 agencies, 91 of which are focused on infectious diseases. In this editorial piece, Dr. Madhukar Pai also discusses whether the product profiles should address affordability, the opportunity to leverage the directory to tap into the potential of emerging innovators in the Global South, and ways to improve the new WHO resource.

Every year, 5.4 million people are bitten by snakes. Between 81,000 and 138,000 die as a result, and of those who survive, 400,000 suffer lifechanging injuries. Two years ago, WHO formally classified snakebite as a neglected tropical disease and later this month it will launch a global strategy aimed at halving the number of deaths and cases of disability caused by snakebite by 2030. Last week, two major funding announcements for snakebite research were made public. Wellcome Trust announced a new £80 million program to transform the way snakebite is managed globally, and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) released £9 million to fund the development of a universal snake antivenom. The DFID-funded consortium—which includes the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and snakebite specialists from Kenya, Nigeria, the United States, and India—will leverage the technology and processes that led to the discovery of drugs to combat HIV to develop new antivenom therapies. It will run through 2021, when a pre-clinical prototype of antivenom is expected.

TB Alliance was awarded a Center of Excellence in Translational Research grant by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to support the development of two new clinical stage tuberculosis (TB) drug candidates. The grant, spaced out over five years, will provide US$5.5 million in the first year and reach a total of $28.4 million by 2024. With this grant, TB Alliance and its research partners will focus on the development of compounds that address drug-sensitive and multidrug-resistant strains of TB. “Expanding the global portfolio of new TB drug candidates, from which we can assemble tomorrow’s shorter and simpler cures, is crucial in the fight against TB,” said Dr. Mel Spigelman, president and CEO of TB Alliance.