G-FINDER 2010: Good news with a twist in the tail for PDPs

Funding for R&D in neglected diseases has risen yet declined for PDPs.

18 Feb 2011

A press briefing and panel discussion at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine marked the launch of the third report in a series of five commissioned by the Gates Foundation in 2007. The report, drafted by Dr Mary Moran and Policy Cures, seeks to map the state of global investment into research and development of new products for neglected diseases in 2009, thus helping investors decide which area to fund.

The report highlights good news and not so good news.

The good news is that total funding for R&D in neglected diseases has risen to around $3.2 billion – that’s an 8.2% increase. This rise has been seen in six diseases, including malaria and TB; it seems malaria received $46 million more than the previous year. In addition, funding is more evenly spread across the diseases compared to recent years, although the bottom four receive even less than they used to at ~$11 million each a year.

The not so good news is that with most countries and philanthropic organizations cutting back funding to cope with the financial crisis, a couple of worrying shifts have developed: First, a shift towards funding domestic, early research (up 21%) and away from product development (up only 5%), leading to the second – a decrease in funding for product development partnerships (PDPs), with a preference for direct funding to researchers and developers.

In fact, funding for PDPs is down by 9% – the considerable sum of $50 million – and MMV is one of the nine PDPs that shouldered this decline.
Who’s still giving? Philanthropic funding has fallen somewhat but still retains just over a fifth of the total funding pie for neglected diseases, while public financing has edged towards the two thirds mark (63.8%).

Of the public funders the US stands head and shoulders above the rest at 69% of the total $2.1 billion and the UK comes in second at just over 7% – a vast difference but both countries account for 97% of the rise in contribution from the previous year via US NIH, US DOD, UK DFID and UK MRC. The EU on the other hand had decreased its funding by $12 million, as had nine other top funders.

Of the philanthropic organizations, the Wellcome Trust alone showed an increase in funding. While in industry, multinational corporations (MNCs) gave more to R&D for neglected diseases compared to the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), 26% of whom were 10 companies from India and Brazil, focusing on local endemic diseases like malaria and diarrhoeal disease.

Unsurprisingly, NIH and the Gates Foundation accounted for almost 60% of total funding.

The press conference and discussion was chaired by Andrew Jack the Financial Times pharmaceuticals correspondent.

All panellists voiced their concern over the fall in support to PDPs. PDPs have proved their merit over the past decade. They manage over 40% of non-NIH funding and have over 140 projects in development. In spite of this obvious and visible success, some donors were contemplating giving their money to industry. Mary Moran noted that PDPs have registered nine new products for TB, malaria, meningitis and leishmaniasis in 10 years, compared to the 14 new NCEs developed for neglected diseases in the 25 years from 1975 to 1999.
To go back to funding industry would be a retrogressive step and negate the significant wins of PDPs. The PDP model was created to fill the gap in new drugs for neglected diseases left by the abysmal failure of the market. It uses the power of partnerships to achieve what a single entity cannot.

MMV's David Reddy highlighted the critical and catalytic nature of PDPs:

  • They work closely with Pharma, and complement them, both with expertise and funds
  • Their capacity to assemble a portfolio of products in a disease area and work with limited funds to manage it far exceeds that of a single Pharma company 
  • They can make rapid, data-driven trade-offs when choosing one company’s product over another for their pipeline to ensure that public funds bring forward the best drugs overall and not simply the best in one company’s more limited portfolio
  • They use independent expert scientific advisory committees to ensure evaluations are robust and only the best drugs progress through the pipeline
  • They are not tied down by the profit motive 
  • They ensure efforts are directed at only those products that serve the public good

On the whole, panellists felt that the move away from funding PDPs was not constructive and that much more needed to be done in the area of product development for neglected diseases.