Two health advocacy groups, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) are urging public health authorities to create a global fund to tackle what they call "deadly gaps in innovation."
Citing the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), emerging infectious diseases and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), the two organizations say the pharmaceutical industry is failing to address certain public health challenges.
The ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has claimed more than 11,000 lives, highlighted inadequacies in the ability of the international community to combat emerging public health threats.
Critics have called the World Health Organization's (WHO) response to Ebola slow and ineffective. Following a review of WHO's response, an independent panel recently said the organization lacked "robust emergency operations capacity [and] culture."
There is also growing consensus among global health authorities, including WHO, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that more needs to be done to combat AMR. The increased prevalence of drug-resistant organisms is tied to the overuse and misuse of antimicrobial medicines in both human and animal populations.
A Common Thread
According to MSF and DNDi, the threat posed by AMR, emerging infectious diseases and neglected tropical diseases must be addressed through a unified framework of research and development and emergency response mechanisms.
In a paper published to PLOS Medicine this week, researchers representing MSF, DNDi and several other research and government institutions call the "deficit in innovation" a major threat to public health and security. The authors point out that more than a year into the Ebola crisis, treatments "remain experimental … while the current antibiotic pipeline is drying out." This is in part, the authors say, because the market for products addressing these health threats is "limited, unpredictable, and therefore unattractive" to industry.
To address these issues, the authors propose a globally funded research and development framework similar to "large, international, multilateral funds [that] exist for global health delivery (e.g., UNITAID; The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the Gavi Vaccine Alliance)."
Establishing a Framework
For such a system to work, the authors say, there must be a defined financing mechanism tied to "one or more entities that have the ability to monitor research flows and outputs." The authors say more thought is required to determine whether this mechanism should exist within, or outside of, existing United Nations bodies like WHO.
Pointing to the events of the past year, the authors say a well-funded global research and development framework has greater potential to address public health threats than what they refer to as a "crisis management" approach.
Looking forward, the authors call on world leaders to endorse the creation of a global biomedical research and development fund and mechanism at the upcoming G7 summit next month.
MSF/DNDi Press Release, PLOS Medicine