U.S. is world’s largest funder of global health research and development

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Report shows investments save lives and dollars

The U.S. government invested $12.7 billion over the past decade in the creation of new vaccines, drugs, diagnostics and other products for neglected diseases in the developing world. That’s according to a new report released by the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) and Policy Cures on Friday.

Of the 45 new products registered in that time to address these neglected diseases that affect more than 1 billion people around the world, the U.S. was involved in the development of 24 of them (or 52 percent).

“Our government contributes 45 percent of total investment in research and development in global health, and 70 percent of all government investment in global health R&D worldwide,” said Don Joseph of BIO Ventures for Global Health at an event launching the GHTC report at Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington. Entitled ”Saving Lives and Creating Impact: Why investing in global health research works,” the report examines spending over the past decade at five federal agencies [the Department of Defense, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)], and found that the U.S. government is supporting 200 (or 55 percent) of the 365 global health products currently in the development pipeline – including the first ever vaccine against malaria, three HIV vaccines and a new generation of improved TB drugs.

Nevertheless, U.S. expenditures on global health R&D account for only 0.01 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), which means, Joseph said, “Americans spend more on ice cream in three weeks than the U.S. government spends each year on global health.”

Javier Guzman, MD, MSc (right), from Policy Cures presents on a new report from GHTC Friday at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The importance of partnerships
Highlighting the importance of government partnerships with other entities, Dr. Javier Guzman of Policy Cures discussed the GeneXpert MTB/RIF rapid TB diagnostic. In 2006, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) reached an agreement with GeneXpert manufacturer Cepheid to expand their diagnostic platform to include TB, utilizing funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at NIH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

By the end of 2011 – with combined effort from an array of partners – a total of 460 GeneXpert machines (comprising 2,401 modules) and 591,450 Xpert MTB/RIF test cartridges had been procured in 47 countries under the low- and middle-income country concessional pricing, according to the Stop TB Partnership. In India alone, the Xpert MTB/RIF is projected to save 100,000 lives every year, according to GHTC. Just one example of a product registered with the support of the U.S. government, GeneXpert is expected to double the diagnosis of TB in HIV-infected patients and triple the diagnosis of drug-resistant TB, curbing its spread.

The GHTC report estimates that two U.S. investments alone – the GeneXpert MTB/RIF and a new meningitis vaccine – have led to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings.  The new meningitis vaccine MenAfriVac is expected to prevent approximately 437,000 cases of the disease over the next 10 years, saving around 43,500 lives, averting approximately 105,000 disabilities, and saving about $570 million.

Other U.S.-sponsored global health developments in the report included:

  • a new and improved female condom, which studies have shown to be more acceptable to women than earlier renditions and still 80 to 90 percent effective at preventing HIV infection. USAID contributed more than half of the development costs associated with the new prevention tool, which is already available in Europe and China and is being tested by the NIH before it is sent to the FDA for approval;
  • several HIV vaccine candidates, which are still a ways from deployment but hold promise of “much greater impact;” and
  • shorter TB treatment regimens that could reduce transmission by 10 percent, leading to fewer infections and fewer people requiring TB treatment.  

The event panelists emphasized that these and other tools – all of which traverse the long, risky process of new tool development – are made possible by mitigating risk through collaborations between industry, philanthropy and government sectors.  “Partnership clearly, in a lot of products registered, is important because it allows different players to reduce the risk and the cost of development,” Joseph said.

The economic impact of global health R&D at home and abroad
Sixty-four cents of every dollar spent by the U.S. government in global health R&D goes directly to U.S.-based researchers and product developers, said panelist Dr. Javier Guzman of Policy Cures. “It’s actually investing in the economy and researchers based here in the U.S.”

A prime example given in the report is the benefit of global health R&D to the largest state economy in the U.S. – California. “In 2007, the U.S. government funding for global health supported over 8,500 jobs for Californians, and paid nearly $540 million in labor wages,” according to the report.

One of the many benefits abroad is that our investments in global health protect U.S. troops in active duty, Guzman said. Malaria has caused more U.S. Army casualties than enemy fire, according to the report, and investments in global health enhance the reputation of the U.S. with countries abroad.

The importance of continued U.S. commitment to global health
The report ends by listing key reasons the U.S. needs to maintain its support of R&D for neglected diseases, such as:

  • Current investments in global health are already on course to save millions of lives and dollars in the developing world;
  • The next generation of global health products is imminent and promises to deliver even greater health and economic gains to the developing world; and
  • Failing to replace old ineffective with new and better ones costs lives and wastes money.
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