MSF, partners to develop drugs for neglected tropical diseases

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI) will plough about 250 million dollars (220 million euros) into finding treatments for three debilitating and deadly diseases that affect more than 30 million mainly poor people a year.

The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres and five private and public sector partners launched a campaign Thursday to develop medicines against tropical diseases such as sleeping sickness that have been largely neglected by drug companies.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI) will plough about 250 million dollars (220 million euros) into finding treatments for three debilitating and deadly diseases that affect more than 30 million mainly poor people a year.

There are no research programmes into sleeping sickness, Chagas disease or leishmaniasis and little in the way of effective medicines to tackle the illnesses, which are endemic in developing countries, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a statement. "Patients in developing countries have little choice other than to treat themselves with medicines that have become ineffective and have significant side effects," Yves Champey, interim director of DNDI said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 510 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are threatened by the three parasitic diseases.

"Neglected diseases" affect people who are so poor that they do not form an attractive commercial market for industrial research into new drugs, despite the numbers who fall ill.

MSF hopes that the initiative with France's Pasteur Institute, India's Medical Research Council, Malaysia's health ministry, Kenya's Medical Research Institute and Brazil's Oswaldo Cruz Foundation will be able to develop medicines from existing molecules used for other drugs.

Barely 10 percent of global medical research is directed at diseases which cause 90 percent of cases of illness in the world, according to the WHO and aid groups.

The DNDI initiative will tackle African sleeping sickness and its Latin American equivalent, Chagas disease, parasitic illnesses which are carried by flies.

African sleeping sickness had virtually been wiped out in the 1960s but later reappeared and spread to 36 countries, while Chagas disease moved into urban areas in the 1970s and 1980s and has also been spread by blood transfusions.

The other disease targeted, visceral leishmaniasis or kala-azar -- Hindi for "black fever" -- persists in poor, rural areas of the Indian subcontinent, Brazil, and Sudan.

Most victims eventually die prematurely as a result of the diseases after enduring chronic illness.

MSF said the list of partners in the initiative could expand especially in other developing countries, while other groups such as the WHO, and the UN would be involved.

"DNDI will mobilise scientific innovators to develop new treatment methods for the poorest patients," Champey said.

MSF said DNDI would seek agreements with pharmaceutical companies for access to their databanks on molecules and other expertise, as well as private donations, but would focus on encouraging greater public sector health care.

Four of the partners are public medical research laboratories.