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6 February 2019

Funding for rheumatic fever research falling behind other neglected diseases

Symptoms of rheumatic fever usually begin two or three weeks after a Strep A infection. Credit: UN Photo / Albert Gonzalez Farran
Symptoms of rheumatic fever usually begin two or three weeks after a Strep A infection. Credit: UN Photo / Albert Gonzalez Farran

Research funding for diseases which predominantly affect people living in poverty in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) reached a record height in 2017, according to a report released recently by Policy Cures Research, a global-health think tank based in Sydney, Australia. Despite a record $US3.6 billion in funding in 2017 this amount falls short of the desired $8 billion annual target deemed sufficient to account for the development of products which could reduce deaths and disabilities caused by neglected disease.

The G-Finder project and annual report provides policy makers, donors, researchers and industry with a comprehensive analysis of global investment into basic research and development (R&D) of new products to prevent, diagnose, control or cure neglected disease in developing countries. The G-Finder project commenced in 2007 and the reports provide a rich data set to understand R&D investments and their allocations to specific disease or product types, funding trends over time, and the identification of any potential gaps.

The G-FINDER survey tracks global public, private, and philanthropic investment into product research and development for neglected diseases. The report has included rheumatic fever as a neglected disease since the project commenced. Rheumatic fever received the least R&D funding (for the second year in a row) in 2017 ($1.2M, <0.1%).

Preventive vaccine R&D is the only product area for rheumatic fever included in the G-FINDER scope. The majority of reported rheumatic fever R&D funding was for early-stage research ($0.7m, 60%), with the remainder not allocated to a specific R&D product or stage ($0.5m, 40%).

Professor Jonathan Carapetis, Director of the Telethon Kids Institute and Board member of Reach says, "An effective and widely implemented Strep A vaccine would be a game changer.  It would reduce deaths and suffering not only from rheumatic fever, but from all Strep A diseases. It would have profound impact on quality of life and economies around the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries - for these reasons it should be an important public health goal."

Following the WHO Resolution on rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease which was passed in June 2018 there has been increased engagement in the development of a Strep A vaccine, including from the World Health Organization and the International Vaccine Institute.

“A vaccine is within our reach. The global coordination of vaccine researchers, product developers and funders and the prioritisation of activities is essential not only to achieving the goal of developing a Strep A vaccine that works, but also in accelerating the pathway to availability” said Professor Carapetis.

You can access the full report from Policy Cures Research here, and supplementary details can also be found here.