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Governments told to spend more on ''neglected'' diseases

Written by: Staff
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GENEVA, Apr 21 (Reuters) Governments rather than industry pay for most drug development and should ensure more money is spent on fighting diseases such as malaria that afflict poor countries, a health advocacy group has said.

The Global Forum for Health Research found that once tax and other subsidies are accounted for, the public sector finances 84 per cent of global research and development in the health sector, private industry 12 percent and non-profit donors 4 per cent.

''The public sector is by far the largest investor globally in basic research to discover important new drugs and vaccines,'' Donald Light, a professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, said in a report for the Forum yesterday.

This gives governments the leverage to push for more development of drugs for so-called neglected diseases which kill millions of people each year, the report said. The Forum's aim is to campaign for more research devoted to improving the health of people in developing countries.

International experts estimate only 10 per cent of the world's resources for health research are spent on solving the health problems of developing countries, where 90 per cent of curable diseases are found, it said.

''Governments are going to have to get involved in this area,'' Stephen Matlin, the Geneva-based group's executive director, told a news briefing. ''The current levels of funding won't be enough.'' Western countries should spend more public money on treatments for tuberculosis, parasitic diseases and other ailments, and contribute more to public-private ventures that share costs and risks between governments, firms and charitable groups, Matlin said.

Groups like OneWorld Health, the Medicines for Malaria Venture, and the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development will need much more funding because of the high cost of late-stage clinical trials for their medicines, he said.

''We probably need something that is perhaps 5 to 10 times larger than the current size of investment (from the public sector),'' Matlin said.

In nominal terms, the private sector is the biggest financier of worldwide health research, accounting for about 48 per cent of the more than 100 billion dollars spent each year.

But factoring in tax breaks and indirect support like government-funded laboratories and researcher training, private industry's actual net R&D costs were ''about one-tenth the amount widely claimed,'' Light said.

REUTERS PR BD0924

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