BioPerspectives

Nov 19, 2008

The Global Challenge of Infectious Disease

  • The talk of the town since the conclusion of this historic election has been understandably focused on on how to fix the economy, pull out of Iraq over the next 16 months, and pursue clean energy alternatives. The magnitude of tasks that President-elect Obama has to contend with are staggering and each of them demand immediate action and long-term vision. However, through the fog of campaign rhetoric and economic meltdown in the US and in Europe, very little has been said about how the United States can take a real leadership position with helping to eradicate global disease through the commercialization of affordable life- saving therapeutics and vaccines for developing countries.

    In a recent article by the WSJ, the Gates Foundation efforts to fund non-typical research was highlighted. The Foundation will give $100 million to researchers doing novel medical research experiments over the next year and presents a unique approach to funding new and ground-breaking therapeutics for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Both of these are killers on the global stage particularly on the African and Asian continents. With over 3 million AIDS deaths a year outside of the US and over 2 million deaths from tuberculosis in African alone, it is readily apparent that disease, next to poverty, is one of the greatest challenges to developing countries.

    New infectious diseases such as chikungunya, and existing diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, are a global threat and any attempt to address diseases must deal with their root causes of conflict, change, and poverty, said Dr. Julie L. Gerberding at the 2008 Princeton Colloquium on Public and International Affairs.

    Companies such as The Institute for OneWorld Health and Bio Ventures for Global Health, both of whom are funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are two of the industry leaders combatting global disease. iOWH, based in San Francisco, is a non-profit pharmaceutical company directing a worldwide effort to uncover, research, and develop new medicines for neglected infectious diseases. With a robust pipeline addressing visceral leishmaniasis, diarrheal disease, malaria, chagas, and soil-transmitted helminthiasis, iOWH is a true pioneer succeeding in partnering with companies, nonprofit hospitals and organizations in the developing world to conduct medical research on new cures, manufacture and distribute newly approved therapies that will impact the health of millions of people.

    Bio Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), based in Washington D.C., is creating a new model to provide incentives to the biotech industry to develop therapeutics and vaccines for neglected diseases in the developing world. While not directly involved in the drug development, BVGH recognizes that biotechnology companies could contribute substantially to the discovery and development of new therapeutics for neglected diseases. and provides a road map for enlisting their capabilities in this fight - with the result that novel drugs will be developed faster, and more lives will be saved.

    We need to act now before disease in developing countries starts to take on cataclysmic proportions, which combined with poverty, climate change, and political instability are a major threat to our global well-being.

    While there will be much debate about what to do here at home over the course of the next couple of months and years, it is imperative that we not lose sight of the larger picture and start using our globally powerful voices to help address these unmet needs. Perhaps by doing so, we will find out that by focusing on the good of the whole, we can really help the good of the one here back at home.


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