The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) has launched a Framework for Action against non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which, it says, represents "a paradigm shift for the research-based pharmaceutical industry."

NCDs include cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. They are the leading cause of death and disease worldwide, killing more than 36 million people in 2008 - with nearly 80% of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries - and mortality rates are forecast to increase 15% worldwide between 2010 and 2020.

In part, says IFPMA, this is due to the progress made in combating infectious diseases through economic growth, development and better treatment options, but it is also linked to lifestyle choices. For most infectious diseases, rapid access to diagnosis and treatment is an imperative for patient survival, but for NCDs the "lifecycle" is different and there may be many factors to be implemented, such as prevention, before medicines or other treatments need to be prescribed, it adds.

The industry's 10-point Framework for Action was presented yesterday at the United Nations (UN) Civil Society Hearings in New York, ahead of the UN High Level Meetings on NCDs taking place in September. It brings the global research-based pharmaceutical industry together in support of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Action Plan on NCDs and the Moscow Ministerial Declaration on Healthy Lifestyles and Noncommunicable Diseases, agreed in April.

IFPMA says its aim is for the Framework to "provide a sound basis for the research-based pharmaceutical industry to partner with the people on the ground, governments and the WHO to find ways to address prevention, care and treatment for NCDs in the developing world." 

The document scopes out specific areas of action where the industry can make the most significant difference, such as innovation, access and affordability, but also prevention and health education.

Actions on access and affordability of NCD treatments include promoting the right policy, regulatory and supply chain environments that secure optimal quality of care for patients and also enable companies, individually, to implement commercially-sustainable access and pricing strategies for the supply of NCD vaccines and medicines to the developing world.

The Framework document notes that over 1,500 medicines for major NCDs are currently in companies’ R&D pipelines, and says that the industry will "endeavour to address its innovation towards the specific needs of developing world populations and settings." To this end, in addition to the Framework, the industry will launch a programme of research that will improve its understanding of the specific needs of developing-world populations, it says.

The initiative is "a paradigm shift for the research-based pharmaceutical industry and is “just the beginning - our vision is to work with others to identify what can be done in practice to help poor people to access the care and treatment they need," said IFPMA director general Eduardo Pisani. 

"It puts our industry's collective global health responsibilities firmly at the forefront of how we see our role in the global community," said Mr Pisani, who emphasised: "let's be clear - it is not about altruism but rather about revolutionising our relationship to others." 

"Times are tough for government, business and patients. In order to tackle the rise of NCDs, and stay the course, we need to look at sustainable new approaches to global health which have prevention at its core," he said.