Increased Funding For Leading Infectious Diseases; Neglected Disease Funding Stagnant 
infectious disease
A villager’s eyes are being examined for African eye worm by Dr Philippe Urwotho, a medical doctor and Provincial Coordinator of the DRC’s Neglected Tropical Disease National Programme.

Global funding to develop new drugs for some of the world’s leading infectious disease killers, such as HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria, was US $3.876 billion, with the drop of US $185 million from 2018 reflecting COVID-related difficulties in data collection, according to the G-Finder Report, which tracks annual global investments.

However, once participation is accounted for, the report estimates that 2019 funding was virtually unchanged from its record high in 2018, with only a marginal decline of US $8 million. 

On the other hand, funding for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) remains stagnant as it had for the past decade, with most NTDs seeing little change to their individual funding levels (although the majority did receive small increases), according to findings in the report, launched on Thursday by the Australia-based Policy Cures Research group

Mixed Signals in Global Trends; Policy Makers Need to Step Up to Address NTDs 
Nick Chapman, CEO, Policy Cures Research

The G-Finder Report is a comprehensive analysis of global investment into research and development of new products to prevent, diagnose, control or cure neglected diseases. It is widely used by national governments, industry, civil society, and the World Health Organization to identify gaps in progress and areas where investments would be needed. 

Reactions to the news remain mixed, in line with the good and bad news the report contains. 

“It’s not necessarily a good one or a great one. I don’t think that the level or the distribution of global funding for neglected disease is as we wanted or as it should be,” said Nick Chapman, CEO of Policy Cures Research, during the launch of the report. 

Ricardo Baptista Leite, member of the Parliament of Portugal, called on policy makers, who have both the legal and moral obligations to represent underserved populations, to tackle neglected diseases. 

“Policymakers are the ones who are at the interface of academia, social science, civil society, philanthropy, private sector, and media, be it social or conventional, and therefore they can truly represent the multi-sectoral approach needed to fight poverty and therefore tackle directly the root causes of these diseases.” 

Leading Infectious Diseases Account for Three-Quarters of Funding

Changes in neglected disease funding – increases in TB, HIV/AIDS, salmonella infections, and snakebite, decreases for helminth infections, malaria, hep C, and diarrhoeal diseases

The G-FINDER report tracks investments across 36 diseases including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria – which together represent the world’s leading infectious disease killers. The three accounted for US $2.7 billion, or three-quarters of global funding in 2019 

While global funding for HIV/AIDs and tuberculosis research and development increased from 2018 (up US $29 million for both), funding for malaria dropped slightly, falling US $32 million – the first drop since 2015. 

The latter quarter of R&D investment was split between the remaining 33 diseases, with funding remaining relatively stagnant, although the majority of diseases did receive small increases in funding.

Increased funding was the result of two United Kingdom public funders – Department for International Development (DFID) and Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) – which supported a Global Health Research Group on African Snakebite Research, and ongoing funding from the UK NHS. 

Dengue, a WHO-categorized NTD listed as one of the top ten threats to global health, had its funding increased slightly by US $3.2 million. The only other NTD to see increased funding in 2019 was Buruli ulcer, which rose (up US $0.2 million) to US $2.8 million.

US Primary Contributor, But Report Calls for Diversity in Funding

The US NIH contributes to most of global infectious disease funding

Investment by public sector and philanthropic groups reached another year of growth and record highs, while private sector funding declined in 2019, according to the report.

The United States contributed close to three-quarters of total public funding, once again making it the largest public funder at US $1.878 billion. The UK was the second-largest contributor (US $210 million), followed by the European commission.

According to Paul Barnsley, senior analyst at Policy Cures Research, this “warrants celebration”, but also a “small amount of concern” as Policy Cures Research Group warned in the past about dependence on only a few major funders, and pushes for diversity in funding. 

“It’s fair to wonder whether decision makers are paying as much attention to G-FINDER report briefings as they ought to be.” 

Alongside the US, the next largest increases in funding came from low- and middle-income countries – Brazil and Colombia – with France and Switzerland following.

Most of the increase in public funding was directed to HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria. 

Philanthropic funding for neglected disease R&D totaled US $782 million in 2019. Increases came mainly from the Gates Foundation (up US $35 million) and the Wellcome Trust. The Open Philanthropy Project became the third largest Philanthropic Funder, increasing their funding US $9.3 million from their modest investment of US $14 million. 

COVID-19 Funding Unprecedented 

COVID-19’s unprecedented funding may result in fiscal tightening that impacts NTD investment

In spite of  concerns surrounding lack of diversified funding, the Policy Cures Research Group still found the funding pledged in the last year for COVID-19 to be positive.

“Even if a chunk of these [pledges] turned out to be empty promises more than 9 billion pledged in the first 9 months of 2020 still represents an unprecedented response, much bigger than anything we saw for Ebola, much bigger than our annual spending across all neglected diseases combined,” said Paul Barnsley. 

Barnsley said high income economy interest rates remained “mostly low” and nations that had to “spend their way through COVID still have the means to spend the way out of recession.” 

While this initial picture is relatively welcoming, future fiscal tightening may impact neglected disease funding.

“We have anecdotal evidence that funding designed to help people in other countries fares badly during general belt tightening,” said Barnsley.  

But COVID-19 does speak to the need for collaboration across sectors in order to combat both pandemics and neglected diseases. 

“It is not just the science of product development, but it’s really the science of partnerships. The COVID experience will give us valuable lessons about how to be really good scientists in creating the best possible partnerships to address global health needs,” said Mark Feinberg, President and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI)

Image Credits: DNDi, Policy Cures Research Group .

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