Joint research to combat diseases in developing countries

Product development partnerships have the aim of developing inexpensive drugs to combat poverty-related diseases by bringing together scientists and commercial companies from around the world.

Examining malaria samples: Researchers from the product development partnership "Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics" (FIND) © FIND/Xavier Ding

More than a billion people suffer from poverty-related and neglected diseases such as dengue, Chagas disease and worm diseases. These infections account for around 90 percent of the global burden of disease. But only one in ten drugs works against poverty-related diseases. This is because, for decades, very few new drugs have been developed to combat infectious diseases in the developing countries. Economically weak regions are not lucrative markets for pharmaceuticals companies. The Federal Government has therefore set itself the goal of improving living conditions in the developing countries by means of targeted funding for research.

For the purpose of winning the fight against poverty-related diseases, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is relying on product development partnerships (PDPs). These are international partnerships of public and private funding providers. They work together to develop drugs, vaccines and diagnostic procedures to counter poverty-related and neglected diseases and to provide these at low cost to people in low-income countries. PDPs work on a non-profit basis.

In order to accelerate the development of new drugs, these partnerships bring together experts from different sectors. Academic institutes, public research institutions, non-governmental organizations and research-based pharmaceuticals companies come together to pool their expertise in the fight against poverty-related diseases.

A doctor feeling for swellings in the neck. These can be a symptom of sleeping sickness. © Benoît Marquet

Above all children need help

The Federal Research Ministry is among many organizations which provide funding for product development partnerships. PDPs form one of the cornerstones of the Ministry’s Funding Concept “Global Health in the Focus of Research” relating to neglected and poverty-related diseases.

The Ministry is currently providing funding to four PDPs. They are carrying out research on Chagas disease, dengue, bilharzia and elephantiasis as well as diseases which have high child mortality rates in developing countries such as bacterial pneumonia, meningitis, diarrhoea and malaria. The Federal Research Ministry supports the following partnerships:

  • To help children: The “Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative” (DNDi) partnership is working to find new drugs for neglected diseases, for example for the treatment of Chagas disease, malaria and HIV in children.
  • To help combat dengue fever: The “Dengue Vaccine Initiative” (DVI) is an international consortium led by South Korea which is working on a vaccine for the dengue virus.
  • To help bring new drugs onto the market: The “European Vaccine Initiative” (EVI) based in the German city of Heidelberg aims to develop effective, accessible and affordable vaccines for malaria and other poverty-related diseases.
  • To help create faster and more accurate diagnoses: The “Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics” (FIND) is developing innovative diagnostics for several diseases such as tuberculosis, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness. During the Ebola crisis in West Africa, this product development partnership made a vital contribution towards the rapid introduction of suitable testing methods.

New funding strategy for poverty-related diseases

Following the G7 Science Ministers' Meeting held in Berlin in October 2015, the Federal Research Ministry updated its funding strategy concept for neglected and poverty-related diseases of 2011, adding new priorities under the name “Global Health in the Focus of Research”. The Ministry had already provided around 25 million euros in funding for product development partnerships between 2011 and 2015. In the second round of funding, the Ministry is doubling its support to around 50 million euros over the next five years. In addition, the Federal Research Ministry will continue to strengthen the national research landscape and in doing so also support the developing countries in building up their own health networks.

We are committing even more resources to global health because health is a human right, including in the world's poorest regions. We urgently need new drugs, vaccines and diagnostic procedures. This funding strategy will help us combat poverty-related diseases more effectively.

Johanna Wanka, Federal Research Minister