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Report: Few Biotechs Working on Neglected Diseases

Girls at a malaria prevention event in Ghana (USAID.gov)

Girls at a malaria prevention event in Ghana (USAID.gov)

A report by BIO Ventures for Global Health, a not-for-profit organization related to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), says only about five percent of the world’s biotechnology companies are developing new drugs, vaccines, or diagnostics against neglected diseases. The report, Biotechnology: Bringing Innovation to Neglected Disease Research and Development, is scheduled for release today at BIO’s annual meeting in Boston.

The report cites WHO statistics showing more than 1 billion people are affected each year by neglected diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, dengue fever, and Chagas disease.  Each year, ten million people die from neglected diseases. Millions more are so debilitated by disease that they are unable to work, care for themselves, or care for their children.

The BIO Ventures report says 134 biotech companies are engaged in research on neglected diseases, representing about 5 percent of all 3,000 biotechs worldwide. However, says the report, these companies are working on nearly four in 10 (39%) of the 191 new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics in development related to these conditions.

Collaboration is the primary model used by biotechs for addressing neglected diseases, according to the report. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of all drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics for neglected diseases in the pipeline involve partnering. In most cases, the partnering involves either academic institutions (57%) or product development partnerships (PDPs, 52%), followed by collaborations with government agencies (30%). PDPs are a public-private partnering mechanism designed to increase industry participation in neglected disease R&D.

However, a sizable percentage of biotechs (36%) work alone on neglected diseases, particularly tuberculosis and dengue fever. The report attributes the practice of going it alone to the greater ability of these small and medium-sized enterprises to overcome barriers and take advantage of market opportunities.

“Our new report provides specific recommendations both to biotechnology companies and neglected disease stakeholders from academia, governments, nonprofits, and foundations to increase and improve their collaborative work in neglected disease research,” says Don Joseph, the CEO of BIO Ventures for Global Health. “Accelerating solutions for these devastating diseases presents major challenges but can happen if these groups continue and increase their work together.”

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