The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund, a $100 million initiative involving the government of Japan, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and five Japanese pharmaceutical companies, has called for greater cross-border collaboration to tackle the “inevitable threat of infectious diseases”.

The fund and the Embassy of Japan convened a panel of leading global health experts in London yesterday (November 11) to tackle the problem. Globally, one in seven people has a major infectious disease and the risk of contracting one is rising. As such, the GHIT fund argues that the need for “concerted action to create a current framework for R&D that invests in accelerating innovations for neglected populations is needed now more than ever”.

Trevor Mundel, president of the global health division at the Gates Foundation, said the re-emergence of infectious diseases “has been a global wake-up call and it’s essential we look in new directions and explore new opportunities for developing solutions. We need better knowledge sharing through partnerships between high and middle-income countries, donors and developing countries”.

His views were echoed by Peter Piot, director at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Prof Piot, a key figure in the research team that identified the Ebola virus in 1976, said the development of treatments and vaccines “must be prioritised during both inter-epidemic and epidemic periods [and] emphasis must be placed on creating a mechanism for accelerating development and testing interventions".

He added that “with the right blend of political will, public awareness, resources and science, we can educate, prevent, treat and, eventually, eliminate many of the diseases that affect the developing world”.

The GHIT fund was launched in April 2013 and includes Japan’s five pharma majors - Takeda, Astellas Daiichi Sankyo, Eisai and Shionogi. As an example of one of its supported projects, the fund cited the work of researchers at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine led by Steve Ward, to identify new drugs to target elephantiasis and river blindness.