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Archive for November 26th, 2010

Nov 26 2010

Support for early-stage research moves down the Gates Foundation priority list

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program continues to seek to “harness advances in science and technology to save lives in poor countries”, through a budget that now exceeds $2 billion every year. But a small yet highly significant part of this programme that focuses on early-stage research now seems to play a smaller part in the overall Gates’ vision.

Over the last seven years, the Grand Challenges in Global Health has provided $460 million in funding for 45 highly innovative projects with the long-term potential to create new health care interventions. However, according to an article in the Seattle Times, most of the researchers who received grants have now exhausted their original funding and only a select few will receive further support. Future Grand Challenges grants will be much smaller and quick results will be demanded.

The article reports that the Foundation has modified its priorities and will now “focus on technologies with the biggest health payoffs and near-term applications”. Vaccine development apparently now tops the priority list.

The article expresses the concern of some scientists who, “…having experienced the way Gates can give, then take away, are wary of pinning their research programs to the interests of one very rich man”.

While there is no doubt that global health has benefited massively from the input of the Gates Foundation, concerns have often been expressed as to the lack of information about the process the Foundation uses to decide upon (and sometimes subsequently change) its priorities. This does lead to a sense of insecurity among scientists and others receiving Gates support.

Nov 26 2010

Starting to notice NTDs

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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The mainstream media is starting to become aware of the huge impact of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) on the world’s poorest people. The most recent article of note on the subject is in the Guardian (UK).

Written for the newspaper’s science section by Dorothy Bishop, a professor in developmental neuropsychology at the University of Oxford, the article points out that children infected with schistosomiasis, hookworm and other parasitic worms are likely to have impaired short-term memory and speed of mental processing, in addition to the physical symptoms caused by these parasitic infections.

Professor Bishop concludes that, “By increasing awareness of the scale of the problem and the relative ease with which [NTDs] can be tackled, we can make them history in societies affected by poverty and poor infrastructure”.

Nov 26 2010

Nigerian drug development institute faces funding crisis

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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Research at Nigeria’s National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) is said to have “ground to a halt” due to a lack of funds. A grant from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has expired and the support provided by the Nigerian government is less than one fifth of what the Institute needs to cover its running costs, according to a news story in Nature.

NIPRD specializes in research on traditional herbal medicines, with the aim of developing potential new drug candidates for conditions that are common in Africa. There is evidence that a drug (Nicosan) which it developed for the treatment of sickle cell disease is effective in relieving symptoms. Promising results are also said to have been achieved with potential malaria and tuberculosis treatments. Plans to continue research on all of these drugs are on hold. (Meanwhile, a US company that was manufacturing Nicosan in Nigeria has closed its factory there and the drug is no longer available.)

Karniyus Gamaniel, NIPRD’s director, says hopes to get funding from the World Bank.