Geneva, 3 July 2003 — A new not-for-profit drug research organization that will harness cutting-edge science to develop medicines for diseases afflicting the world’s poorest people was established today in Geneva. Prestigious health and research institutes from Brazil, France, India, Kenya and Malaysia joined Médecins Sans Frontières to launch the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi). DNDi will work in close collaboration with the UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (WHO/TDR) to achieve its goals.
A mere 10% of the world’s health research efforts go into diseases that account for 90% of the global disease burden. “Patients in developing countries are being forced to use drugs with failing efficacy and significant side-effects,” said Dr Yves Champey, interim director of DNDi. “They deserve a better deal. DNDi will mobilize scientific innovation to create new medicines for the world’s most neglected patients.”
At the launch ceremony, the six founding partners gave the commitment of their institutions to do everything possible to support DNDi. The six organisations are the Indian Council of Medical Research, Institut Pasteur (France), the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Médecins Sans Frontières, the Ministry of Health of Malaysia and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Brazil). WHO/TDR will participate in the meetings of the Scientific Advisory Committee of DNDi as an observer to provide expert scientific and technical advice as required.
DNDi plans to spend around US$250 million over 12 years to develop 6-7 drugs and several drugs in the pipeline to combat sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease - three killer diseases that threaten a combined 350 million people every year. To increase the chance of short and middle-term success, the organisation will develop drugs from existing compounds as well as fund and coordinate research to identify new chemical entities and develop them into drugs.
Over the past months, DNDi has proactively identified a number of promising drug development projects. In addition, with TDR’s help, DNDi also sent a call for letters of interest to the scientific community in February 2003.
“The overwhelming response – 71 project ideas submitted so far – shows that the science for these neglected diseases is out there waiting to be tapped,” said Dr Yves Champey. “What’s missing is the structure to take the most promising project ideas through the full drug development pipeline. DNDi will provide this structure by capitalizing on existing drug development capacity and expertise in the affected countries.”
DNDi will be the first not-for-profit organisation to exclusively focus on the world’s most neglected diseases. Moving away from the traditional Public Private Partnership structure, it intends to take drug development out of the marketplace by encouraging the public sector to take more responsibility for health. This basic principle is reflected in the composition of its Founding Partners, four of which are public sector institutions.
DNDi’s success will depend not only on government and private donations but also on the contribution of pharmaceutical companies, for instance access to compound libraries, expertise, and R&D facilities.