A ground-breaking new initiative has been launched Japan which will see the government, universities and the pharmaceutical sector band together to develop new medicines for diseases affecting the developing world.

The $100-million initiative, led by the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund), marks a major shift for industry in Japan as it is the first time companies in the country have become significantly involved in supporting R&D efforts for the diseases of poorer countries.

The GHIT Fund is a public-private partnership between the government of Japan, a consortium of Japanese pharmaceutical companies - Astellas Pharma, Daiichi Sankyo, Eisai, Shionogi & Co and Takeda Pharmaceutical - and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

The fund - which carries an initial five-year commitment of more than $100 million - is unique because it involves a consortium of pharmaceutical companies who themselves initiated an alliance with government and civil society to help support R&D for neglected diseases.

It also reportedly marks the first time the Japanese government has made a substantial commitment to developing new technologies targeting diseases that mainly affect the developing world. 

“The key is for our Fund to provide speed and impact through the facilitation and funding of collaborations," noted Kiyoshi Kurokawa, chair of the GHIT Fund board. 

The GHIT Fund is poised to announce at the 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development this weekend a series of historic agreements to screen compound libraries at Japanese pharmas and research institutes for new treatments for malaria, tuberculosis (TB), and other afflictions that mainly affect the world's poorest nations.

First partnerships

The Fund’s inaugural effort is financing the work of three non-profit product development partnerships (PDPs) involving the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development (TB Alliance), the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi). 

TB Alliance is partnering with Eisai, Daiichi Sankyo, Shionogi and Takeda to search for compounds that show potential to fight deadly, drug-resistant TB strains. 

MMV is partnering with Eisai, Daiichi Sankyo and Takeda along with the Institute of Microbial Chemistry (BIKAKEN) and Kitasato Institute to pick new candidates for treating malaria. 

DNDi is partnering with Eisai, Takeda, BIKAKEN and Kitasato Institute to find new treatments for three neglected tropical diseases that threaten hundreds of millions of people worldwide: leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and sleeping sickness (Human African trypanosomiasis or HAT). 

"Japanese companies and research institutes are doing more than just giving us access to their compound libraries to identify new promising drugs to treat patients for neglected diseases," said Bernard Pécoul, executive director, Drugs for Neglected Disease initiative. “GHIT is a catalyst for innovation and partnership creation for other governments to follow".