Posts Tagged ‘R&D’

Investment in Malaria R&D Required to Sustain Gains and Save Lives

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

In the U.S., the bite of a mosquito is uncomfortable and irritating. For 3.3 billion people abroad, a mosquito bite can be deadly. Almost half of the global population is at risk of contracting malaria from the bite of an infected mosquito. Although malaria is preventable and curable, an estimated 655,000 people, mostly children in Africa, died from the disease in 2010.

On April 25, the global health community commemorates the fifth annual World Malaria Day by recognizing the progress that has been made in the fight against malaria and calling for increased investment to sustain this momentum and achieve malaria control worldwide. The current basis of malaria control efforts are mosquito control strategies and treatment. Studies have shown that bed nets can reduce malaria transmission by 90% in areas with high coverage rates. In addition, indoor residual spraying with insecticides can also reduce malaria transmission in areas with at least 80% coverage.

The tide is turning against malaria, thanks in part to remarkable achievements in research and development (R&D).  In the past decade, malaria deaths have decreased by one third in Africa. In countries with improved access to malaria control interventions, child mortality rates have fallen by 20%. More research is needed, however, to develop new, longer-lasting tools to bring eradication within reach.

In Africa, a child dies every minute from malaria.  Photo credit: Flickr photo by Gates Foundation

Hope on the way: the malaria product pipeline

Antimalarial medicines are used for curative and preventive purposes, but the increasing threat of drug resistance is making R&D for new, more effective drugs even more essential. Widespread resistance to the drug chloroquine in the 1970s and 1980s necessitated the use of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT), currently the best available treatment. The plant from which artemisinin is derived is in short supply in nature, threatening future availability of ACT. OneWorld Health, a drug development affiliate of PATH, in collaboration with private-sector partners, is working to solve this problem through the development and production of semisynthetic artemisinin at an affordable price that can sustain the supply of ACT for years to come.

In addition, product development partnership Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) has several promising drug candidates in their R&D pipeline. MMV is developing a one-dose cure to replace current 3-day regimens, eliminating the need for treatment follow-up and reducing the likelihood of drug resistance.  MMV is also working on the development of non-artemisinin-based treatments.  Considering recent reports of increasing resistance to ACTs in Southeast Asia, increased investment is needed to support the development of new therapies that may be necessary to control malaria in the future.

The greatest hope for malaria eradication is the development of a safe, effective vaccine to prevent infection. RTS,S, the most advanced malaria vaccine candidate, has been shown to reduce the risk of infection by 50% among children age 5-17 months in a recent late-stage clinical trial. Developed through collaboration between the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, this vaccine could be recommended for widespread use by the WHO as early as 2015.

Research has played an essential role in the progress already made against malaria and additional scientific breakthroughs may be around the corner due to the robust R&D pipeline. Malaria R&D has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives, including American troops stationed abroad, and also has important economic benefits here at home by creating jobs and stimulating economic growth. In order to fully realize these health and economic benefits, increased investment in malaria R&D is required.

For information on the April 25 Washington, DC event, Advancements of U.S. Science and Technology in Malaria, please see http://www.researchamerica.org/event_detail/id:140. RSVP required.

World Meningitis Day: The Power of Vaccines

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

The global health community commemorates April 24 as the fourth annual World Meningitis Day to increase awareness of the global burden of meningitis, a serious, yet often neglected, universal health threat.

Meningitis is most often caused by a virus or bacteria that inflames the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Viral meningitis is the most common but least severe form of infection – most people that contract viral meningitis fully recover without specific treatment.  Bacterial meningitis, however, poses a greater threat due to the severity of the disease, which is fatal in 50% of cases if left untreated, and causes 170,000 deaths each year, including 500 deaths in the United States.

Bacterial meningitis is especially dangerous because it can develop in only a few hours and is difficult to diagnose since its symptoms are similar to those of the common flu. Although bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, resistance is increasing, especially in the developing world.  Even with treatment, at least 10% of people with meningococcal meningitis, one type of bacterial meningitis, die within 48 hours of developing symptoms and another 10-20% suffer lifelong disabilities.  Considering that infants and young children are at the highest risk of infection, lifelong disabilities can have a devastating economic and social impact on communities that experience an epidemic.

Luckily, vaccines can prevent most strains of bacterial meningitis throughout the world.  One of the greatest global health success stories of the past decade has been the development of MenAfriVac, a vaccine that protects against group A meningococcal meningitis, a deadly strain of disease that occurs primarily in sub-Saharan Africa.

Approximately 450 million people in 25 countries are at risk for meningitis in Africa’s “meningitis belt.”  The introduction of MenAfriVac could eliminate this deadly disease from the region. Source: PATH

MenAfriVac was developed in less than 10 years by the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a product development partnership between PATH and the World Health Organization (WHO).  Since its introduction in 2010, almost 55 million people have been vaccinated in six high-risk countries.  There has not been a single case of meningitis reported among those vaccinated – a remarkable accomplishment.  MVP hopes to vaccinate an additional 265 million people by 2016, but needs continued support in order to achieve this goal and eliminate this deadly type of meningitis from sub-Saharan Africa.

MenAfriVac is a perfect example of the power of vaccines to save lives and prevent disabilities, transforming communities that historically suffer devastating consequences due to disease epidemics.  Research and development (R&D) for vaccines is critical for the control and eventual elimination of infectious diseases that know no borders in an interconnected world.  Vaccination prevents between 2 and 3 million deaths every year, but still an estimated 1.7 million children under the age of 5 died from vaccine-preventable diseases in 2008.

For every success like MenAfriVac, there are more life-saving vaccines, drugs and diagnostics in the R&D pipeline that need increased support in order for them to reach your children and those in need worldwide. Both World Immunization Week and World Meningitis Day serve as a reminder that investment in global health R&D – which can produce life-saving vaccines and other innovative health technologies - is a smart thing for the U.S. and the right thing for the world.