By BT Slingsby, director, Global Health Innovative Technology Fund
Another reason to be happy today on UN International Day of Happiness? This week, the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund), a new public health partnership to deploy Japan’s R&D muscle to the global fight against infectious diseases, announced it is awarding $12 million to speed the development of innovative tools and drugs to combat tuberculosis and some of the world’s most neglected diseases, like Chagas disease, schistosomiasis and parasitic roundworms.
One billion of the world’s poorest people are afflicted with neglected diseases—also known as “the burden of the bottom billion”—and another three billion are at risk of being infected. Tropical disease infections, although not always fatal, can lead to delayed growth in children, impaired cognition and memory, malnutrition, organ damage, blindness, disfigurement and permanent disability. The result: a never ending cycle of poverty that ripples through families, communities and countries.
Here’s the breakdown of the $100 million GHIT Fund:
- A $5.65 million boost for research on a novel tuberculosis vaccine candidate, awarded to the National Institute of Biomedical Innovation, Japan’s Create Vaccine Co., Ltd. and Aeras, an international non-profit biotech based in Washington, DC.
- $3.84 million to Switzerland’s Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative and Eisai of Japan for a new combination therapy for testing a safer, more effective combination therapy for Chagas disease, a parasite-borne disease transmitted by insects known as “kissing bugs.” Chagas kills more people in Latin America than any other parasitic disease and reports of infection have been on the rise in parts of the United States.
- $1.86 million to develop a pediatric formulation of the gold standard treatment drug praziquantel to combat schistosomiasis, which is endemic in 78 countries and affects more than 230 million people worldwide—making it second only to malaria in terms of impact of parasitic diseases. Currently, the drug is recommended only for adults and children over the age of six. The grant was awarded to a partnership involving Top Institute Pharma of the Netherlands, Merck KGaA of Germany, Astellas Pharma Inc. of Japan and Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.
- $1.09 million to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the University of Liverpool’s collaboration with Eisai to investigate new investigate new drug compounds to fight Wolbachia bacteria which work in concert with many parasitic roundworms and play a role in crippling diseases like elephantiasis and river blindness (ochocerciasis) which together affect more than 150 million people.
- $2.2 million over two years for a new project to screen compound libraries at Japanese pharmaceutical companies and research institutes for promising new treatments for malaria, tuberculosis and neglected diseases.
The GHIT Fund is a public-private partnership between the government of Japan, a consortium of five Japanese pharmaceutical companies (Astellas Pharma Inc.; Daiichi Sankyo Co., Ltd.; Eisai Co., Ltd.; Shionogi & Co., Ltd.; and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is the first fund to involve a consortium of pharmaceutical companies, government and civil society working together to support research and development for neglected diseases. The combination of Japan’s government and its drug industry—the third largest in the world—brings a powerful engine of knowledge and innovation to the development of medications for the developing world.