Malaria funding rise fills drug pipeline – report

LONDON, (Reuters) – Annual funding for research and  development (R&D) in the fight against malaria has quadrupled  over 16 years, generating the strongest pipeline of potential  treatments in history, according to a report yesterday.

The non-profit research group Policy Cures warned, however,  that even a slight drop in annual funding could jeopardise this  pipeline, derail development of much-needed products, and  potentially increase the cost of fighting the disease in future  years.

The malaria product pipeline currently includes almost 50  drug development projects, one vaccine candidate in late-stage  testing — an experimental shot called RTS,S from  GlaxoSmithKline — and dozens of other vaccine  candidates in various stages of development, the report said.

There are also many new insecticide ingredients for mosquito  control and a new generation of simple, rapid, and highly  sensitive diagnostic tests, it said.

“In the coming years, the fruits of this unprecedented  investment in malaria research and development could save  hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives,” said Awa  Marie Coll-Seck, executive director of Roll Back Malaria (RBM),  which commissioned the report. “This robust product pipeline  gives us hope that eradication of malaria is possible.”

She added that cutting funding now would be “a foolish waste  of a historic opportunity.”  The total available for R&D in  2009, the latest year for which figures are available, was $612  million.

The report assessed progress against the R&D funding goals  in a Global Malaria Action Plan set out by RBM in 2008, and  estimated what would be needed in the coming decade to deliver  the tools required to control, eliminate and eventually  eradicate malaria.

It found that sustained, relatively modest increases are  needed to boost annual funding to $690 million by 2015, and then  called for a larger jump in 2016 to $785 million.

There are 225 million cases a year of malaria, a  mosquito-borne disease which can damage the nervous system,  kidneys and liver. Severe cases can lead quickly to death.

According to the World Health Organisation’s latest global  malaria report, good progress has been made over the past  decade, with deaths estimated to have dropped to 781,000 in 2009  from nearly a million in 2000. The largest absolute decrease in  death rates was recorded in sub-Saharan Africa, but Africa still  accounts for nine out of 10 deaths, mainly children under five.

Yesterday’s report stressed the need to keep up the momentum  of the past 10 years and said investing sufficient funds now  should allow overall malaria R&D funding to decline beyond 2016  by about 5 percent a year until 2020.

“The malaria control community is in a position to achieve  unprecedented reductions in malaria deaths if investors stay the  course,” said Mary Moran, Policy Cures’ director.

The report also noted that malaria R&D funding is highly  concentrated, with funding from fewer than a dozen governments  accounting for nearly half the total in 2009 and industry  investment for nearly a fifth. Coll-Seck called for more donors  and investors to enter the field.

“The global malaria community does not need a blank check,  rather it needs targeted and strategic investments that continue  to take us toward the goal of eradicating malaria,” Moran said.

The report was funded by Roll Back Malaria, the Foundation  for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), Innovative Vector Control  Consortium (IVCC), Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), and the  PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative.

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