On the heels of a World Health Organization report that called drug-resistant tuberculosis a public health crisis, this year’s TB research funding report from Treatment Action Group and the Stop TB Partnership shows the first drop in money spent to develop new answers to the disease since the groups began tracking spending eight years ago.
The report, showing declines in dollars to identify diagnostic tools, drugs, vaccines, and strategies to use them, gives a glimpse into the future, its authors say. It’s a future that could see further funding drops (the reductions detailed here precede sequestration-related cuts) in a world less equipped than ever to prevent TB illnesses and deaths.
The report looks at both sources of funding and the areas of research that receive it. Funding from both public and private sector donors dropped, while philanthropic funding, with a 3 percent increase, did little to fill the gap, the report shows. The report cites concerning trends in both drops; while government budget belt tightening continues, the drop in pharmaceutical company TB drug research investment is seen to show waning interest in the field.
The areas to lose the greatest percentages of spending were those addressing needs highlighted by the 2013 WHO TB Report: That three million people with TB go undiagnosed each year, and that the spread of tuberculosis resistant to existing treatments has reached crisis proportions. While the most commonly used method to diagnose tuberculosis was developed a century ago and fails to detect disease more than half the time, research for new technologies to diagnose tuberculosis felt the steepest percentage drop in funding, contracting by nearly a quarter. Research for new drugs to treat the disease dropped, too, at a time, the report notes, of unprecedented promise, as well as unprecedented need. The first new class of drug to receive approval in nearly half a century received that approval at the end of last year to speed availability of the drug to patients for whom all other options had been exhausted.
And, while the WHO 2013 TB report urged action to ensure that new technologies will be put to their most effective uses, the TAG/StopTB Partnership funding report finds spending for that category of research dropped by nearly a tenth. The report credits much of the decline to “sharply reduced support” from USAID. Concerns about proposed contractions in USAID’s TB Program budget prompted 65 TB experts to write a letter to the White House last week, citing the agency’s critical role in tackling the disease.
The report also points out that while this is the first report of eight to cite an overall drop in funding for TB research, funding has consistently fallen short of targets the Stop TB Partnership has determined necessary to effectively address the disease.