Political will remains key barrier to deploying BRICS resources towards the development of a new generation of treatments for drug-resistant TB
Rio de Janeiro, 5 December 2014 — As government representatives from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – known as the BRICS countries – convene today in Brasilia for the fourth official BRICS Ministers of Health Meeting, where opportunities for cooperation on health projects, including on tuberculosis (TB), will be discussed, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) expressed that while it welcomes the BRICS countries’ prioritization of efforts to address the deadly TB epidemic, it is concerned by the lack of focus and resources being put towards developing new treatment regimens urgently needed to combat drug-resistant forms of the disease.
People living in BRICS countries are disproportionately affected by TB: 60 % of all TB cases in high-burden countries and 60% of multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) cases globally are found in BRICS countries. Current treatment options for MDR-TB are expensive and woefully inadequate, with poor treatment success rates, many patients experiencing horrible side effects such as deafness, and limited treatment options for people with the deadliest form of the disease, extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB). Current BRICS investments in national TB programmes will prove inadequate to turn back the growing MDR-TB crisis unless new, more effective and more tolerable treatment regimens are developed and put into routine use.
“BRICS countries have both the capacity and a responsibility to transform the failing approach to research and development for drug-resistant tuberculosis treatments,” said Felipe Carvalho of the MSF Access Campaign in Brazil. “Alarm bells should be going off around the world. Investment into TB research is declining, major drug companies are abandoning TB research entirely, and the first new TB drugs developed in half a century remain virtually useless to the vast majority of patients because they haven’t been tested in the drug combinations that are necessary to cure TB. Now is the time for BRICS countries to create incentives for new public and private sector research initiatives that focus on rapidly delivering effective treatment regimens to people with tuberculosis.”
At the second Health Ministers meeting in 2013, the BRICS countries recognized MDR-TB as a major public health problem, and a number of recent BRICS public statements have highlighted the countries’ desire to reduce the burden of TB through innovation in new drugs and vaccines. Recently, at a meeting in Beijing, the BRICS countries decided to strengthen their collaboration in the field of pharmaceutical innovation, focusing on specific health challenges including tuberculosis. Despite the fact that the BRICS health cooperation framework and joint financing initiatives like the new BRICS Development Bank have been put in place, no initiative that would achieve this vision for TB treatment has so far been put forth.
“Now is the time for the BRICS countries to step forward and be a part of the solution. Stronger leadership from BRICS countries could drive the development of a robust pipeline of anti-TB drugs, while promoting open and collaborative research focused on the development of new treatment regimens that patients desperately need,” said Julia Hill, Access Advocacy Officer for MSF’s Access Campaign in South Africa. “Using innovative research models, BRICS countries could lead the way in delivering new treatment regimens at affordable prices, for example by adequately rewarding promising research during the development process, instead of waiting to recoup research investments through sales of high-priced medicines.”
MSF provides TB treatment in 24 countries, including India, Russia and South Africa. In 2013, MSF treated almost 30,000 people with TB, and 1,950 patients with drug-resistant TB. Our medical teams are reminded every day of the need for better treatment options when they witness the debilitating side effects and unacceptably low cure rates of existing drug-resistant TB treatments.