Funding for neglected diseases increases to US$ 2.5 billion, but big killer diseases miss out

The first survey of global public and private investment into R&D for new products for neglected diseases has found that funding was over US$ 2.5 billion in 2007. The lion's share of funding - almost 80% - went towards HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria. Many significant diseases responsible for killing millions of people in developing countries - including pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases - remain underfunded and collectively received less than 6% of total funding.

These are the results of the G-FINDER 'Global Funding of Innovation for Neglected Disease' survey, released and published in London today by The George Institute for Global Health. Click here to view the publication.

Study leader, Dr Mary Moran of The George Institute for International Health said: "The good news is that neglected diseases are on the global agenda that the strong advocacy work of AIDS, TB and malaria activists have shown results. The bad news is that some of the biggest or cruelest killers like pneumonia and Buruli ulcer have few advocates, no global fund and get less than 5% of funding."

The report revealed a high concentration of public and private funders, with two organisations providing 60% of funding and many wealthy governments providing little or no funding at all. The largest donors were the US National Institutes of Health (42% of total funding) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (18% of total funding). Twelve organisations alone contributed over 80% of this global total.

About a quarter of donor funding was routed to public-private product development partnerships (PDPs), such as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Medicines for Malaria Venture.

Dr Mary Moran said: "In these times of economic crisis , it's worrying to see all our eggs in one basket like this - with two organisations providing 60% of global funding - particularly when that basket represents the lives of hundreds of millions of people."

"Building on recent successes in global health will require new tools to diagnose, treat, and prevent neglected tropical diseases," said Regina Rabinovich, Director, Infectious Diseases Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "The G-FINDER survey is a call to action to donors worldwide to support greater R&D for infectious diseases."

For most diseases, funding was not enough to create even one new product. Most diseases and disease categories each received less than 5% of global funding. Sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease collectively received only 4.9% of total global funding (US$ 125.1million); the diarrhoeal illnesses surveyed collectively received 4.5% of global funding (US$ 113.8million); the helminth (worm) infections received 2% (US$ 51.6million); and bacterial pneumonia and meningitis received only 1.3% (US$ 32.5million). Five diseases - leprosy, Buruli ulcer, trachoma, rheumatic fever, and typhoid and paratyphoid fever - each received less than US$ 10 million or 0.4% of total global investment.

The survey which was also published today in the open access journal PLoS Medicine, found a great variance in donor investment levels and choices. Public and philanthropic donors collectively invested US$ 2.3 billion (about 90%) of total funding in 2007. The US government represented nearly three quarters of global public spending. Disappointingly, some of the world's wealthiest governments were missing from the list of top 10, top 20 or even top 50 funders.

Among public investors, Brazil and Russia made it into the top twelve investors, The US government invested over a billion and a quarter dollars or 70.4% of funding, followed in second place by the European Commission with 6.8%, by the UK with 5.7% and then the following governments in decreasing order, who each provide under 2%: Netherlands, Ireland, Brazil, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Russia, Belgium and France with 0.8%.

The pharmaceutical industry contributed just over 9 % of global funding - or nearly a quarter of a billion dollars (US$ 231.8 million), with some companies providing more funding than many OECD governments.

Dr A E Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer at The Wellcome Trust said: "The G-Finder report provides a compass by which to navigate the complex world of neglected disease funding. It should be on the reading list of every funder- and, even more important, every policy advisor to governments that have yet to come forward in support of the cause to reduce the dreadful burden of neglected diseases."

Moran and colleagues' survey was designed to include all 30 neglected diseases and all pharmaceutical tools of significance to developing countries, and to gather funding data as consistently and comprehensively as possible to help funders better understand where the gaps lie and how their investments fit into the global picture. G-FINDER researchers surveyed 150 funders and included 127 neglected disease-product areas.

The G-FINDER survey concludes that: "A broadening of funding efforts so that all who are able to contribute do so, and all diseases receive the attention they deserve, would lead to a dramatic positive impact on the health of developing country patients afflicted with these diseases."

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided the funding for the survey over a five-year period. The second-year of the five-year survey will continue to track R&D funding and review trends.