Five Japanese pharmaceutical companies have joined a public-private partnership with the government of Japan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance research and development of new medicines, vaccines and diagnostics targeting infectious diseases in the developing world.

Astellas Pharma Inc, Daiichi Sankyo Company Ltd, Eisai Co, Ltd, Shionogi & Co, Ltd and Takeda are all involved in The Global Health Innovative Technology (GHIT) Fund, the first public-private partnership of its kind in Japan.

Operating as a non-profit organisation, the GHIT Fund aims to facilitate global R&D partnerships between Japanese and non-Japanese private and public research organsations, as well as providing grants for promising research.

The overarching goal is to reinforce Japan’s contribution to global health by developing new health technologies for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases.

The GHIT Fund will do so by leveraging science and technology capabilities in the country’s pharmaceutical companies, universities and research institutions.

NTD burden

As the participating companies point out, more than 1 billion of the world's poorest 2.7 billion people are affected by just those neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) designated for control or eradication by the World Health Organization.

These are Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis), cysticercosis/taeniasis, dengue/severe dengue, dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease), echinococcosis, fascioliasis, human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, rabies, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis, trachoma, and yaws.

There are 149 countries and territories in which NTDs are endemic. At least 100 of them are endemic for two or more of the diseases, while 30 countries are endemic for six or more NTDs.