(Photo courtesy of globalfund.org.au)

By Shiva Shrestha, Global Health Campaign Manager and Mark Rice, Policy & Advocacy Manager at RESULTS Australia

A breakthrough in identifying multiple diseases within minutes via a single drop of blood, was made recently by researchers from the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN). Cancer can be quickly and easily detected from any tissue type, e.g. blood or biopsy.

This latest breakthrough reveals just how advanced the detection and treatment of diseases, like cancer, have progressed in recent times.

TB needs such advances in R&D

Another disease that could benefit from such advances in detection is tuberculosis (TB). A contagious and airborne disease, it ranks as the world’s leading cause of death from a single infectious agent, killing 1.6 million people globally in 2017, and making 10.0 million people gravely ill, surpassing HIV & AIDS.

The G-Finder Report launched this week has revealed some good news – that global funding for basic research and product development for neglected diseases, like TB, increased in 2017 to US$3.566m up by $232m (seven per cent) from 2016. This is the highest annual increase ever recorded by the G-FINDER survey.

The US$615 million investment in TB Research and Development (R&D), represents an increase of $23 million, or 3.8 per cent on the previous year. Unfortunately this is not adequate to develop new TB drugs diagnostics and new vaccines to end TB.

G-Finder 2018 Report

The Treatment Action Group (TAG) report published last year shows that R&D investment in 2017 was a movement in the right direction. However, the figure was well below the target of US$2 billion every year from 2018-2022. This was one of the targets pledged by world leaders at the UN High-Level meeting on TB in New York last year in September.

Breaking down the TB R&D funding, the G-finder report highlights:

  • Nearly half of all investment in TB Research and Development went to drugs at $286m (46 per cent);
  • Basic research ($155m, 25 per cent),
  • Preventive vaccines ($74m, 12 per cent),
  • Diagnostics ($68m, 11 per cent) and
  • Therapeutic vaccines ($4.8m, 0.8 per cent). 2017 was the fifth consecutive year that funding for TB R&D increased

This also shows that R&D investment for new TB vaccines (both preventive and therapeutic) represents only 12.8 per cent of the total aid fund, which is a small amount. Contrast this figure, with the fact that one-quarter of the world’s population has latent TB, (people infected by TB bacteria, but are not yet ill with the disease and cannot transmit the disease, but have  5–15 per cent lifetime risk of falling ill with TB.)

Funding for R&D for other diseases

HIV/AIDS received the highest R&D funding in 2017 (35.2 per cent of all R&D funding), followed by Malaria (17.5 per cent) and Tuberculosis (17.3 per cent).

Public funding increased considerably, led by the UK and the EC. Significant new investments came from

  • Europe, with the United Kingdom government scaling up its contribution by 89 per cent ($87m) to $186m,
  • The European Commission by 50 per cent ($40m) to $119m, and
  • The German government by 39 per cent ($18m) to $65m.

Australia’s funding on R&D for neglected diseases remained constant in 2017 with $23 million (one per cent of the global total). In terms of percentage of Australia’s GDP dedicated to neglected disease, the figure comes to 0.0017 per cent of GDP.

Funding to Product Development Partnerships (PDPs) increased by $52m in 2017 (up 11 per cent); PDPs received $508m, accounting for 14 per cent of all R&D for neglected disease, and 19% of all external investment.

PDPs are non-profit organisations that use a public-private-partnership model to engage the pharmaceutical industry and academic research institutions in R&D for diseases prevalent in low and middle-income countries, where there is a lack of commercial incentive to do so independently.

RESULTS Australia’s view on next steps

Shiva Shrestha, Global Campaign Manager at RESULTS Australia said: “This report is a timely reminder of the funding gaps in research and development for the neglected diseases and particularly for TB. Australia has the opportunity to accelerate the investment in a new and better diagnostics, drugs and vaccine as we can’t afford to slow down now.”