Pharma firms urged to focus on ailments of poor too

Thursday, 26 June 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Health experts have urged pharmaceutical companies chasing profits by manufacturing drugs for the developed world to also make medicines to treat ailments afflicting millions of poor people in developing nations.

Doctors from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have joined hands with a group called Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI) to help increase research and development (R&D) for vaccines and drugs to fight recurring ailments in developing countries.

N.K. Ganguly, the director general of ICMR, said the attention of pharmaceutical companies that only produced drugs according to R&D done in the developed nations needed to be drawn.

"These drugs are for diseases like hypertension, heart ailments, cancer and lifestyle disorders such as obesity, impotence or baldness and many more present more in the developed nations," Ganguly said here Wednesday evening.

"More attention needs to be given to diseases in developing nations as, because of no heavy profit margins, companies do not produce drugs that might help eradicate diseases in the poor nations."

So the ICMR and public research institutes from around the world have joined forces to address the lack of R&D in drugs for neglected diseases.

"DNDI will work in close collaboration with WHO and its Tropical Disease Research (TDR) programme," said Bernard Pecoul, director of Medecins Sans Frontieres' campaign for access to essential medicines.

Pecoul said a mere 10 percent of world health research is devoted to diseases that account for 90 percent of the global disease burden, mainly in the developing nations.

Some of these are malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, leishmaniasis (called kala azar in India) and human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness).

"DNDI will work as a non-profit body and would try to pool in resources from the developed nations to be used for research of drugs for tropical diseases. It is an initiative by means of which better vaccines may be produced so that proper attention is given to these neglected diseases," said Robert Ridley, coordinator for product R&D at WHO/TDR in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ridley said pharmaceutical companies needed to be approached in the right manner.

"We can't possibly ask them to run losses as these are vaccines that would not be commercially profitable because they would be for a disease present in one particular area. We have to think of a right approach to these companies so that they help us in our initiative," he said.

Ridley pointed out that between 1972 and 1997, almost 1,450 new chemical entities were introduced to the global market out of which only 13 were specially for treating neglected infectious diseases.

But he said all was not lost. "Things are changing quite a bit now. People have started to realise the importance of these diseases and the requirement for drugs in these (developing) areas."

Source: IANS
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