Millions continue to wait for treatments for neglected diseases

Only four of the 336 new medicines developed between 2000 and 2011 were made to treat neglected diseases, according to a recent analysis of global health research and development pipelines.

Doctors Without Borders and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative presented the analysis on Thursday at an international conference. Approximately 3.8 percent of newly approved drugs during the time period were for tropical diseases, tuberculosis and other neglected infections. Neglected diseases make up approximately 10.5 percent of the global disease burden.

"We have to ask ourselves, how much progress have we really made over the past decade?" Unni Karunakara, DWB's international president, said. "People are still dying of archaic diseases. Doctors and nurses are still handcuffed by the shortcomings of available medicines, forced to treat their patients with decades-old, often brutal drugs. As we speak, there are drug-resistant TB patients enduring two years on an absolutely horrific course of treatment-debilitating nausea and pain, depression, social isolation, hearing loss, and even psychosis, are just some of the few side effects they can have while on these medicines. Our patients are still waiting for real scientific breakthroughs."

According to the analysis, three of the four new medicines approved for neglected diseases in the last 10 years were for malaria. None of the drugs were for the 17 neglected tropical diseases or TB. As of December, just 1.4 percent of approximately 150,000 registered clinical trials concentrated on neglected diseases.

Titled "The Lives in the Balance: Delivering Medical Innovations for Neglected Patients and Populations," the conference looked at the progress and shortcomings of medical research and development in the past decade.