2012 saw a 40% increase in the number of R&D programmes led by industry to find new or improved vaccines or treatments for ailments affecting more than one billion people globally, says a new report.

132 such programmes to tackle diseases which disproportionately affect people in low- and middle-income countries were underway last year, up from 93 in 2011, according to the latest annual status report on such research to be published by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA).

These projects focus on the diseases prioritised by the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), which are: tuberculosis, malaria, human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leishmaniasis, dengue, onchocerciasis (river blindness), American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), schistosomiasis, leprosy and lymphatic filariasis.

One person in seven worldwide suffers from one or more neglected diseases, the report adds.

In 2011, the research-based pharmaceutical industry was the only sector to increase its R&D funding for neglected diseases, the IFPMA points out. The industry’s R&D investments rose 4.2% to $525.1 million that year, at a time when most public and philanthropic funding levels decreased. The industry was the third largest funder of R&D for neglected disease during the year, contributing 17.2% of the global $3.05 billion spent overall, in third place after the public sector, which contributed $1.9 billion (64%) and the philanthropic sector on $570.6 million (18.7%).

Collaboration continues to be an integral aspect of the industry's approach to these diseases, it adds. Of the 132 R&D projects listed in the latest status report, 112 (85%) are product development partnerships (PDPs), while the remaining 20 (15%) are company-only undertakings, and 16% of health partnership programmes implemented by the industry are fully dedicated to fighting neglected diseases.

"We take a comprehensive approach to tackling neglected diseases," said the industry group's director general, Eduardo Pisani. "Donations of 14 million treatments this decade address patients' near-term needs, while these 132 R&D programmes will bring innovative vaccines and treatments to meet future needs and hopefully stop these dreaded diseases," he said.

As part of the 2012 London Declaration on Neglected Diseases announced on January 30, 2012, the research-based pharmaceutical industry has pledged to continue R&D and donate 14 billion treatments from 2011 to 2020 to control or eliminate nine neglected diseases. The Declaration is endorsed by Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Becton Dickinson, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bristol-Myers Squibb, DNDi, Eisai, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck KGaA, MSD, Mundo Sano, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, UKaid, USAID and the World Bank.

"This pledge can only reach patients through strong commitment from both concerned countries and implementation partners," says IFPMA.