In the past, the United States has contributed to important breakthroughs in global health—from the eradication of smallpox to a 74 percent drop in measles deaths worldwide. Because of longstanding US leadership and support for global health research and development (R&D), Americans and millions around the world no longer live in fear of diseases like polio and measles, and many more are on treatment for diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria. In fact, the US government is the largest supporter of global health R&D in the world, supporting the development and delivery of vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, microbicides, and devices. However, as we sit at a very important moment in global health product development, the political and economic environment in the United States is causing some to worry. Budget constraints have put funding at risk at many of the federal agencies involvement in global health R&D.
Today, the GHTC launches a new fact sheet outlining the important contributions the US government has made to global health R&D and why it’s critical the United States continues to robustly support the global health research pipeline. There are currently more global health products in the pipeline than ever before—with more than 365 new tools under development as of April 2012. Contributing to the success of many of these products is the US government’s partnerships with nonprofit product developers. These organizations partner with the public and private sectors to maximize resources and create tools for patients in low- and middle-income countries. Increased investments in global health research by the United States have the potential to increase the amount of tools combating global diseases. Just some of the products currently in the research pipeline include:
- The RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate, which is currently being tested and a policy recommendation for its use could be issued as early as 2015. Such a vaccine could reduce the burden of sickness and death from malaria.
- A new oral drug for sleeping sickness, fexinidazole, which recently entered late-stage clinical trials in patients in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As a simple, short-course oral pill, fexinidazole could transform care for African sleeping sickness, which is fatal without treatment, and could potentially reduce its incidence among the most afflicted populations and accelerate elimination of the disease.
- Cost-effective diagnostics that are under development for malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases. These diagnostics could be administered in a variety of health care settings and could rapidly and accurately identify sick patients.
- An antiretroviral‐based microbicide which offers hope for women’s HIV prevention. Though more testing is needed following promising results from a 2010 advanced clinical trial, a microbicide could give women the power to protect themselves with or without their partners’ cooperation. In sub-Saharan Africa, where the epidemic has hit hardest, women 15 to 24 years old are at least twice as likely to be infected with HIV as young men.
In the research pipeline for global health products, 200 of the 365 products under development have some sort of US government support. With so much investment from the United States, there is even more at risk if funding is cut. Over the past several years, the US Congress has not been able to agree on a long-term budget for the federal government. Policymakers have allowed sequestration, or widespread automatic budget cuts, to affect all federal programs. These constraints have the potential to push back or halt promising research supported by several federal agencies involved in global health R&D—including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Defense (DoD), the US Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Due to sequestration:
- DoD is expected to receive budget cuts between 8 and 10 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2013. The DoD has been instrumental in the development of several global health technologies, many of which are used to protect Americans soldiers serving abroad. These cuts could affect the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the Naval Medical Research Center, and the Military HIV Research Program.
- NIH, the largest funder of global health R&D in the world, was forced to cut $1.7 billion from its budget by the end of FY 2013. NIH conducts nearly half the early-stage global health research, and supports thousands of domestic jobs all around the United States.
- USAID—with a presence in more than 100 countries—is best suited to support the clinical trials in low- and middle-income countries that ensure basic research is translated into appropriate health products. USAID is the largest supporter of HIV vaccine and microbicide development—both of which will be essential to achieve an AIDS-free generation.
For many of the products currently in the global health research pipeline, continuous US support is essential. Without it, much of the breakthrough research that pushed these products to later-stage development will be lost—sometimes forever. US leaders should seize upon the recent successes in global health R&D and pass a long-term budget that ensures America’s legacy as a leader in innovation and science is not forgotten.
Nick Taylor is the GHTC’s senior program assistant.