Hiding in the thatched roofs and mud walls of many rural Latin American homes is an insect carrying a lethal passenger. Just 1,000 miles south of Houston, a childhood bite from an infected reduviid bug can come back decades later in the form of Chagas disease—a deadly parasitic illness that primarily affects the poor. Treatments taken immediately after infection can cure the disease. But for those who miss the window for effective treatment, chronic infection can cause organ damage over the course of years—or even decades—and eventually leads to death. Medications that effectively kill the parasites during this chronic stage of infection are desperately needed.
Over the past 30 years, biotechnology innovation has revolutionized the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases that affect patients in the developed world. However, for the more than 1 billion people affected by Chagas and other neglected diseases in the developing world, biotechnology is only beginning to make its mark. This raises the question: “What is holding biotech companies back from participating in global health?” Company executives and scientists have told us that understanding how their technologies and expertise are relevant to neglected diseases is both a key first step towards engagement and a significant challenge. In the 2011 edition of the Global Health Primer, BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH) connects the dots between neglected disease product needs and targets/technologies that are familiar to the biotech industry.
Neglected diseases span multiple categories of infectious organisms, clinical symptoms, patient populations, and geographic regions. For those who are unfamiliar with neglected diseases, entering the field can at first seem daunting. Because products for neglected diseases are unlikely to bring in large profits, few companies can afford to spend the time and effort necessary to comb the scientific literature or the many global health websites to crystalize an opportunity. The Global Health Primer addresses this knowledge gap by highlighting opportunities for the application of materials and know-how from developed world diseases to new products for neglected diseases.
To do this, the Primer includes a series of target/technology profiles. These profiles provide a cross-sectional view of drug and vaccine targets and technologies that can be applied to both neglected and more familiar diseases. Each profile contains analysis of the neglected disease product pipeline, product needs, and tools and resources available for new product development for that target/technology. After identifying existing overlaps as well as opportunities for new product development, these profiles guide the reader to the most relevant neglected disease profiles for further reading.
In total, the BVGH Global Health Primer contains 15 neglected disease profiles and 12 target/technology profiles. These profiles include 297 products or research programs that are actively being developed by 113 unique organizations. Several large pharmaceutical companies now have global health programs, and interest and awareness of neglected diseases from biotech companies is increasing. However, the majority of new products for neglected diseases that have come to market in the last ten years are for just two diseases: HIV and malaria. Through the Primer, we hope to drive companies to explore the full spectrum of neglected disease product needs.
Please visit the Global Health Primer online to learn more about how the technology your company is already developing can be used to solve unmet medical needs in poor countries. Together we can save lives in the developing world.