As pharmaceutical industry retreats, research and development for tuberculosis treatments, diagnostics and prevention relies more than ever on government support, and it’s dropping, Treatment Action Group report shows . . .
LIVERPOOL, England – The chance to have the right people and the right information in the right place at the same time comes all too rarely in global action against tuberculosis, but this morning it happened when the author of the Treatment Action Group’s 11th annual report on funding for TB research and development took the report’s findings directly to people who are in a position to improve the currently dismal landscape of support for innovations against the disease.
The Global TB Caucus, born of talks at previous Union conferences and consolidated last year, is a network of political representatives from 130 countries working to build support in their own countries and globally to control tuberculosis. That makes its executive board, which this morning included representatives of the United Kingdom, Germany, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Uruguay, Australia and Algeria an important audience for the take-home messages in the 2016 Report on Tuberculosis Research Funding Trends, 2005-2015: No Time to Lose.
The report shows that after a climb early this century, funding for biomedical solutions to gaps in tuberculosis treatment, diagnostics and a widely effective vaccine not only never effectively exceeded a 2009 peak, but in the last year dipped to its lowest level in eight years, with a drop of $53 million. That means the gap between the $9.84 billion the Stop TB Partnership’s 2011-2015 Global Plan to Stop TB projected would be needed to develop the necessary tools to control the disease and the $3.29 billion provided has only widened, report author Mike Frick noted. In addition, he said, the funding base for tuberculosis research and development is fragile, balanced precariously on the input of two donors that provide the bulk of it — the United States, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With dwindling pharmaceutical industry involvement in tuberculosis research — only three major companies are still in the field — Frick said, spending less than $100 million a year on innovations against tuberculosis, the participation of governments is more crucial than ever.
The report includes a ranking of TB research and development funding countries in order of the percent of their wealth — or gross domestic product — their contribution represents. The U.S. is No. 1, while Japan has ranked close to the bottom but is moving up. The report notes that TB advocates at this conference last year called upon the BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — and Indonesia to triple funding towards developing new tuberculosis tools, and have asked the United States and Germany to increase their contributions.
Suraj Madoori, also of TAG, added reasons why all of them should be upping their contributions to innovations to stop the impacts of tuberculosis (“apart from saving lives,” that is). They include the benefits of strengthened global health security and preparedness, the gains from investment in their own scientific workforces and capacities and that research and development investments represent a cost-saving alternative to long-term economic impacts associated with tuberculosis in their own countries and globally, and a meaningful way to jump into the battle against antimicrobial resistance that was recently launched — albeit without a clear source of funding — at the United Nations last month.
As for the United States, Frick said later, while the perception may exist that the largest funder is “putting up huge money,” it remains far from what is possible or needed. To add to current investments, he said, would yield more value.