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Report: Funding for neglected disease research hits record high

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A scientist analyzing cells
(Photo : luvqs)

Funding for neglected disease R&D in 2017 reached its highest level ever, exceeding US$3.5 billion. This is up 7% since 2016, driven primarily by new investments from the United Kingdom, European Commission, Germany and India.

This is according to the eleventh annual G-FINDER report. Launched today in Geneva, G-FINDER is the world's most comprehensive survey of R&D funding for neglected infectious diseases that disproportionately affect people in developing countries.

"It's exciting to see record-breaking support for research into these diseases, which prevent individuals from reaching their full potential and trap communities in cycles of poverty," said the report's lead author, Dr. Nick Chapman. "Thanks to sustained investment, 2018 alone brought new game-changing tools for debilitating diseases like sleeping sickness, river blindness and malaria. There are many more potentially transformative tools in the pipeline, which we can achieve with continued commitment."

Governments around the world step up

The public sector continued to be the most significant funding source for neglected disease research, contributing nearly two-thirds of the total. Significant new investments came from Europe, with the United Kingdom government scaling up its contribution by 89% ($87m) to $186m, the European Commission by 50% ($40m) to $119m, and the German government by 39% ($18m) to $65m.

Public funding from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) increased by 19% ($17m) to $105m, with India contributing nearly three-quarters of this total. The Indian government increased its contribution by 38% ($21m) to $76m, maintaining its position as the fourth-largest public funder globally, and providing the highest reported level of public funding from an LMIC government. Funding from the South African government also jumped 24% ($2.7m) to $14m.

The United States government held its spot as the world's largest public funder, providing an additional 1.5% ($23m) for a total of $1,595m. Several funders also strengthened their contributions for a second consecutive year, including the government of Japan and non-governmental organisations such as Unitaid, Médecins Sans Frontières and Gavi.

Largely thanks to new and increased government investment, the gap is narrowing between the two largest funders of neglected disease research - the United States government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - and the rest of the funding community.

The focus of the additional funding was on product development, with 90% of the new investment going to either core funding or clinical development to support products as they move through the final stages of the pipeline.

Despite progress, overall funding falls short

Despite funding reaching a record high, overall levels still fall well short of global targets. Not a single government met the World Health Organization recommendation that Member States dedicate at least 0.01% of their GDP to research the health needs of developing countries. The United States took the lead against this measure, meeting 82% of the target, and the United Kingdom followed with 71%. However, all other countries scored below 50% of the target.

Further, public and philanthropic funding for neglected disease research is still reliant on a handful of top funders. The top three public funders - the United States, the European Commission and the United Kingdom - jointly made up 82% of public funding. The largest single contributor, the United States National Institutes of Health, provided 39% of all global funding.

"The increase in funding for neglected disease research is good news," said David Baltimore, Nobel Laureate and President Emeritus at California Institute of Technology. "But, to realise the massive potential of science to improve the lives of the world's poorest, we will need strong funding for both basic research and new product development." Dr. Baltimore's lab is currently studying ways to protect against HIV infection.

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Jan 23, 2019 08:51 AM EST

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