The past month has seen a lot of news about the pharmaceutical industry’s positive influence in developing countries, and this progress looks set to continue thanks to initiatives being launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission (EC).
Today, the WHO launched a new plan that aims to completely eliminate measles and rubella. Key to the success of the plan will be vaccination. According to the WHO, measles deaths have reduced by 74% between 2000 and 2010 thanks to vaccines. Now, the WHO wants to go a step further by introducing rubella vaccines too. By 2015, the plan intends to cut deaths by 95% compared with 2000 levels, and to completely eliminate measles and rubella in at least five WHO regions by 2020.
The initiative, named Measles & Rubella Initiative, has received strong support from the GAVI Alliance, which obtains vaccines from the pharma industry at subsidized prices for use in vaccination campaigns in developing countries.
Meanwhile, earlier this month the European Commission offered a €2-million prize to encourage researchers to overcome one of the main barriers to using vaccines in developing countries: the need to keep them stable at any ambient temperature.
Vaccines used in tropical and developing countries are often rendered ineffective by temperature variations during transport and storage long before they reach their intended patients. The EC believes that solving the challenge of vaccine stability could go far in aiding the vaccine efforts of developing countries and an inducement prize could be just what’s needed given that innovations such as tinned food, transatlantic flights and navigation at sea were all encouraged via competitions and prizes.
Efforts from pharma
Of course, it’s all very well for the WHO and the EC to launch these initiatives but support from the pharmaceutical industry is vital. Fortunately, many pharma companies are already on the case.
Last week, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) released a statement announcing that more than 300 vaccines are currently in development in the US. As well therapeutics of interest to the west, such as cancer vaccines, the list also includes a vaccine for protecting infants against meningococcal disease, a leading cause of meningitis and a recombinant vaccine to prevent malaria.
Big Pharma names have also been in the headlines for their efforts in developing countries. At the end of last month, for instance, Christopher A. Viehbacher, CEO of Sanofi, took a trip to Africa to see the work the company is conducting to support the fight against neglected tropical diseases, such as sleeping sickness. According to a press statement, Sanofi and its partners are on track to eliminate this disease by 2020.
Other big-name companies are also pursuing projects in the developing world. For example, in March, the UK’s University of Dundee announced that it had received more than £10 million to work with GlaxoSmithKline on treatments for tropical diseases, including Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness.
In January, a huge coordinated push to fight neglected tropical diseases was launched by several global health organisations and pharmaceutical companies. No doubt we will be hearing more about pharma and neglected diseases in the future.