Neglected Tropical Diseases
Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a set of 17 diseases that disproportionately affect more than 1 billion people living primarily in the developing world.
As a leading cause of disability, NTDs carry with them significant social and economic burdens. However, as the World Health Organization (WHO) reports, many of these diseases can be effectively controlled and, in many cases, eliminated. Our company has a long-standing commitment to research into NTDs. We initiated research on MECTIZAN® (ivermectin) for use in humans for the NTD onchocerciasis (river blindness) in 1978, leading to the creation of the groundbreaking MECTIZAN Donation Program.
Through a range of in-house programs and external partnerships, we continue to conduct research to address the burden of NTDs today.
The London Declaration
We are an original signatory to the London Declaration, a collaborative effort launched in 2012 to accelerate progress toward eliminating or controlling 10 NTDs by the end of the decade. Our company joined 12 other global pharmaceutical companies and many other stakeholders, including endemic country governments, WHO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the UK Department for International Development (DFID), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations in this effort.
Together with the other pharmaceutical companies, we committed to continuing or increasing donations of medicines to treat or prevent these diseases. Donors committed financial resources, and NGOs agreed to support implementation needs. The partners came together under the banner of “Uniting to Combat NTDs” to track progress and identify gaps that need to be addressed in order to reach the goals of the London Declaration. Through the MECTIZAN Donation Program, we are helping to achieve the disease control and elimination goals for two diseases, onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (LF).
To help provide the necessary ongoing technical support for country-led neglected tropical disease (NTD) programs, including support for onchocerciasis and LF elimination programs in Africa, in 2018, our company provided $500,000 in financial support to WHO’s Expanded Special Program to Eliminate NTDs (ESPEN).
Although existing tools are having a major impact, several NTDs require new or improved drugs and diagnostics to achieve the goals of the London Declaration. We are engaged in various efforts to advance progress toward developing new drugs and diagnostics. For example, together with several other companies, we are providing access to compound libraries with external researchers through the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Re:Search (WIPO Re:Search) consortium and Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi).
Taken together, through our drug donations for onchocerciasis and LF, and our research and development activities for schistosomiasis, visceral leishmaniasis (VL) and Chagas disease, we are supporting the London Declaration goals for five NTDs.
Research and development
Our company is one of the founding members of WIPO Re:Search, a consortium of public and private organizations that facilitates research on NTDs, malaria and tuberculosis. Through this consortium, we are collaborating with investigators at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), providing scientists with a series of compounds for screening that have the potential to lead to better and safer treatments for patients suffering from schistosomiasis. This disease is caused by a blood-borne parasite and affects millions of people living in the developing world.
Also through WIPO Re:Search, in late 2014 we entered into an agreement with researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) in Australia which supports collaboration focused on the research and development of antimalarial drugs that could potentially impact the replication and transmission of malaria. In 2015, our joint team was successful in applying for and receiving a Wellcome Trust Pathfinder Award. Initial screening yielded quality hits with excellent antimalarial potency and in vivo proof-of-concept activity. With the encouragement and support of the BioVentures for Global Health Partnership Hub, the team applied and successfully competed for further funding from the Wellcome Trust (WT). Such support will accelerate the team’s collaborative research program with an objective to achieve lead optimization status in 2019.
In furtherance of our commitment to the WIPO Re:Search mission and community, we continue to provide relevant expertise to other WIPO Re:Search members as requested and appropriate. We also continue to consider other collaboration opportunities where our company’s contributions can provide unique and significant impact.
To contribute to global awareness and advocacy on research and development (R&D) for NTDs, we participate in the annual G-FINDER survey.
Since 2008, G-FINDER has reported on global investments in neglected disease R&D from a range of public and private institutions, and is considered a unique source of current information and insights into ongoing trends for stakeholders engaged in NTDs. We are pleased to note that industry investment in neglected disease R&D has increased in each of the last five years and reached new record highs in each of the last three years.
Since 2008, reported industry investment has increased by nearly 50 percent, while funding from both the public and philanthropic sectors has fallen.
Macrofilaricide Drug Accelerator Program
In 2015, our company became a founding member of the Macrofilaricide Drug Accelerator Program (MacDA), an effort driven by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the members’ collective work toward identifying and generating lead drug compounds to augment the global onchocerciasis and LF drug pipelines. We have established collaborations within the MacDA membership in support of the program’s goals to accelerate the discovery of such lead drug compounds.
Emerging Pathogens with Potential to Generate Severe Epidemics
We are currently collaborating with the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases to perform targeted screening of the company’s compounds. The primary focus of this effort includes viral pathogens such as Ebola, Zika and related viruses that have the potential to generate severe epidemics and pose a threat to civilian and military populations.
Most recently, in vivo proof-of-concept inhibitory activity was achieved for two classes of molecules. More detailed pharmacokinetic / pharmacodynamic studies are planned.