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Japanese Global Health Fund Targets Diseases of Developing World

Source: Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2014 (IPS) - The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund) has allocated 12 million dollars to three recent projects targeting tuberculosis and some of the developing world’s most neglected diseases, which affect over one billion people.

Initiated in April 2013, the Fund was “set up specifically to drive forward product development of vaccines, medicines and new diagnostics for diseases that affect much of the developing world, particularly malaria, tuberculosis and other neglected tropical diseases,” Dr. BT Slingsby, CEO and Executive Director of the Fund, told IPS.

Last week’s funding announcement includes — three specific grants totaling 6.8 million dollars to speed the development of innovative drugs targeting schistosomiasis, Chagas disease and parasitic roundworms, a second round of funding for a novel tuberculosis vaccine candidate totaling 5.65 million dollars and a new investment programme that will help researchers to find promising new drug candidates in the struggle against these and other infectious diseases.

Neglected tropical diseases exist primarily in poor populations and in geographically concentrated areas, where people will often suffer from more than one parasite or infection, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports. More than 70 percent of areas that note the presence of such diseases are categorised as lower-income or lower middle-income economies.

“The physical damage from these diseases is enormous, but that’s just the beginning. Victims are stigmatised by their communities, and because of repeated bouts of serious illness, they can’t provide for their families. The result is a never ending cycle of poverty that can and must be stopped,” stated Slingsby.

The GHIT Fund focuses on the development of these innovative and vital products, but it also works with other organisations to ensure the vaccines and treatments get to those in need.

“We advance the development through identifying partnerships, identifying projects…then advancing them through funding and through management. Once those products are created though, then it’s a matter of how you get them out there, and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is helping us do that,” Slingsby explained to IPS. “UNDP is working as an advisor, in terms of the [delivery] strategy.”

“We want to make sure that countries have the capacity to take advantage of any new technologies,” Mandeep Dhaliwal, Director of HIV, Health and Development Practice at UNDP, told IPS. “Our role is very much about building capacity in low and middle-income countries, so that when and if the GHIT Fund grantees produces something, countries have the capacity, in terms of the regulatory environment and supply management systems…to make sure that these health technologies actually get to patients.”

Investment in product development partnerships for low and middle-income countries often “hit a wall” because countries don’t have the necessary capacity to effectively administer any newly developed health products, Dhaliwal explained. The GHIT Fund and UNDP are also coordinating with other organisations like the WHO and the Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health to address this gap and complement the work of the GHIT Fund and its grantees.

The GHIT Fund’s eight funding partners — five leading Japanese pharmaceutical companies, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — have made a five-year commitment of about 120 million dollars.

“Were a completely independent organisation,” clarified Slingsby. “None of our private funders are involved in the management of our Fund, nor in the selection of grants.”

Beyond developing healthcare products for those in need, the GHIT Fund also serves as a method for the already strong Japanese pharmaceutical industry to broaden itself into the developing world.

“Many major pharmaceuticals that have come out in the last 10 to 15 years are Japanese products, so despite the fact that Japan is a leader in the world in terms of pharmaceutical innovation, they really haven’t been focused on these global health diseases,” Slingsby explained.

The GHIT Fund “allows Japan, as a pharmaceutical industry, to be known throughout the world as innovators of global health products, it allows them to create networks in the developing world, it allows them to enter into these markets as a responsible company or corporation in the developing world. So there is a lot of benefit that goes beyond a return on investment.”

“The GHIT Fund is prioritising research and development for diseases of poverty that nobody else is really investing in,” Dhaliwal noted. “Its not a pure private sector model, it’s a public-private partnership.”

The three most recent grants are the second round of GHIT Fund grants to date. The first round focused on global partnerships working on drugs and vaccines against malaria, tuberculosis and Chagas.

“I think [the GHIT Fund is] filling an important gap. If they produce something, it could improve the health of millions and that’s a major contribution to human development.”

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