Gates Foundation Commits Nearly $70 Million to Help Fight Neglected Tropical Diseases
Four grants support development of vaccines and better drugs, and launch of new medical journal
SEATTLE -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced four grants totaling $68.2 million to help accelerate research on neglected tropical diseases, including hookworm, leishmaniasis, and trypanosomiasis, which kill or disable millions of people in the world’s poorest countries every year. One of the grants will support a new medical journal devoted to neglected diseases.
“Many of the world’s most debilitating illnesses are virtually unheard of in the rich world. But they’re a fact of life for millions of people in poor countries,” said Tachi Yamada, President of the Global Health Program at the Gates Foundation. “We hope our investment in solutions for these problems will spur other donors, governments, and researchers to take action, so that we can see the day when ‘neglected’ no longer applies to these diseases.”
Diseases such as hookworm, leishmaniasis, and trypanosomiasis are transmitted by parasites and worms and affect hundreds of millions of people every year in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In addition to causing death or lifelong disfigurement, they can stunt children’s growth and mental development.
No vaccines exist to prevent most of these diseases, and the limited drugs that are available often can be expensive, have serious side effects, or are becoming less effective due to growing drug resistance. Yet there are important scientific opportunities to develop better vaccines and new drugs. The four grants today include the following:
- Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI), to develop a vaccine to treat leishmaniasis – $32 million: IDRI will develop a new therapeutic vaccine to safely and affordably treat leishmaniasis, a debilitating, and often fatal, parasitic disease that affects more than 12 million people in developing countries. Existing treatments for leishmaniasis require a long course of toxic, painful, and expensive injections. The grant supports a six-year program to develop the vaccine and conduct clinical trials in India, Sudan, and Brazil, countries where leishmaniasis is common.
- Sabin Vaccine Institute (SVI), to develop a vaccine for hookworm – $13.8 million: SVI will develop a vaccine to prevent hookworm, which affects more than 600 million people worldwide and is a leading cause of anemia and malnutrition among children and women of reproductive age in many developing countries. The only method currently available to control hookworm is repeated drug treatment, which can lead to drug resistance. The grant supports the Human Hookworm Vaccine Initiative, an initiative of the SVI that partners with other research institutions in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Brazil.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), to develop drugs to treat trypanosomiasis and leishmaniasis – $21.3 million: UNC will work to develop effective, inexpensive drugs to treat the late stages of leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis. Trypanosomiasis, or “sleeping sickness,” kills 300,000 people every year in sub-Saharan Africa, and 65 million people are at risk of becoming infected. Current treatments are expensive, difficult to administer, and often toxic or ineffective. UNC will lead a consortium of researchers from the U.S., Europe, and Kenya to develop new and better drugs for the two diseases.
- Public Library of Science (PLoS), to launch a new medical journal on neglected diseases – $1.1 million: PLoS will launch PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, a new open-access, peer-reviewed medical journal covering science, policy, and advocacy on neglected tropical diseases. While other medical journals have increased their attention to neglected diseases in recent years, few journals focus on the topic. The new journal will provide an important forum for scientists from developed and developing countries to share the latest information on neglected disease research.
“While medical science has advanced at breakneck speed over the past century, research on most tropical diseases has languished, overlooked by many scientists and most funders. I hope that these grants will help spark a new era of accelerated research on neglected tropical diseases,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, Principal Scientist of SVI’s Human Hookworm Vaccine Initiative and Chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Tropical Diseases at George Washington University. Dr. Hotez will speak on neglected diseases at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City on September 21.