A new report shows that the number of projects into neglected diseases which are being undertaken by drugmakers has increased to 67, up from 58 in November 2007.

These findings form part of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations’ report on the industry’s R&D efforts concerning diseases of the developing world. The study reveals that during 2008, eight R&D projects were stopped, “mainly due to lack of efficacy or unacceptable side effects” Despite that, the total number of active projects has continued to grow, while “tuberculosis and malaria still attract the bulk of the IFPMA members’ efforts”.

Ongoing medicine R&D projects have increased from 50 to 58, while the range of active vaccine programmes is up from eight to nine. Sleeping sickness projects have grown from one to three, and leishmaniasis (or sandfly disease) studies are up from one to two.

IFPMA noted that there were no projects for the parasitic infection Chagas Disease involving member companies active in 2007 but now there are two. However, several leads in dengue research “have unfortunately turned out to be not worth pursuing”, the report notes.

The figures also shows that the industry is becoming more collaborative in its approach to developing world disease R&D, IFPMA says, with 49 projects now being undertaken in conjunction with product development partnerships, compared to 18 by companies on their own.

Major contribution not just through medicines
IFPMA also unveiled the results from its latest “health partnerships survey” at the association’s biennial meeting in Washington DC. The survey measures the R&D pharmaceutical industry’s contribution to help attain the health-related United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

The findings show that, from the inception of the MDGs in 2000 through to the end of 2007, IFPMA members have made available 1.75 billion health interventions (medicines, educational programmes and training etc) to help improve the health of people in low and middle income countries. At the end of 2006, the total of health interventions stood at 1.37 billion.

The assistance provided by the pharmaceutical industry to the developing world in the period, including donations of medicines, vaccines, diagnostics, equipment and labour has been valued at $9.2 billion, of which $2.4 billion was in 2007 alone. Fred Hassan, president of IFPMA and chief executive of Schering-Plough, said the results reflect “not only product contributions but also education and other actions for the long term. And it does not even include our industry’s investment in R&D for developing world diseases”.

At the meeting, Mr Hassan was re-elected to a second two-year term as IFPMA president, while Haruo Naito, chief executive at Eisai, was re-elected vice president. David Brennan, CEO of AstraZeneca, was also voted in as vice president, in place of Alessandro Banchi, who is retiring as chairman of the board at Boehringer Ingelheim at the end of the year.

Mr Hassan said that the industry, acting through IFPMA, “can show it has the human touch in making people healthier and addressing global health challenges. We need to make sure we do two things well: continue getting in tune with all stakeholders, and show better the enormous benefits of a robust R&D-based pharmaceutical industry”.