First Chinese Product Development Partnership For Global Health

On World TB Day 2011, WHO, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the Stop TB Partnership called upon world leaders to step up their commitment and contributions to meet the goal of diagnosing and treating one million people with multi drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) between 2011 and 2015. WHO also released a report, Towards universal access to diagnosis and treatment of MDR-TB and XDR-TB by 2015, which presents progress in the MDR-TB response in the countries with the highest burden of drug-resistant TB. According to this report, China has an estimated 66,000 cases of MDR-TB amongst notified cases, yearly.

Out of these, only 457 MDR-TB patients are confirmed to have begun treatment. There is just one laboratory that can perform drug-susceptibility testing per 1 million residents. MDR Treatment success rate is not known. Recognizing the gravity of the situation-- China has the second highest prevalence of TB in the world, with 1.3 million patients developing active TB and 150,000 people dying from it every year —China took an important step forward to find innovative solutions for neglected diseases. The International Scientific Exchange Foundation of China (ISEFC), a technical public foundation dedicated to promoting scientific development, cooperation, and exchange, on World TB Day 2011, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development (TB Alliance), a non profit organization with the mission of discovering and developing new, affordable, faster-acting drugs for tuberculosis, to work together to establish the Global Health R&D Center of China (GHRC), a world-class organization focused on developing innovative new treatments for public health diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.

"The GHRC will give China the tools it needs to play a leading role in eradicating the diseases that threaten global public health," says Hui Yongzheng, the Chairman of the ISEFC Committee. "It will be a center of excellence, which can harness international innovation and China's growing research and development capabilities to meet the public health needs of the Chinese people and the rest of the world."

The GHRC will be the first Chinese not-for-profit Product Development Partnership (PDP), and facilitate collaboration between public and private entities, including the Chinese government, pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions, and others, to develop drugs for diseases that broadly affect public health, and thus address neglected diseases and improve global health. It will focus on translational medicine, a gap filled by neither Chinese universities focused on early research, or the pharmaceutical companies doing business in China focused on markets with a greater return.

"We are excited to partner with ISEFC in this historic endeavour and make available promising technology for TB," says Dr. Mel Spigelman, President and CEO of the TB Alliance, a global PDP that is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and several governments, and which has a history of collaboration with partners both inside China and around the world. "The TB Alliance has developed the largest pipeline of potential new TB drugs in the world and the creation of the GHRC will help to ensure that these promising new therapies will be developed and available to TB patients in China."

The importance of such collaborations need to be understood in the context of current TB regimens taking  6 months to treat drug-sensitive TB, and two years or longer for drug-resistant TB. The difficulty in adhering to such long regimens fuels the development of even more drug-resistant TB, which is an increasing global health threat. Globally, in 2009, an estimated 3.3% of all new TB cases had MDR-TB. Each year about 440,000 new MDR-TB cases are estimated to emerge and 150,000 persons with MDR-TB die. TB is the leading killer of HIV patients, but the available TB treatments can interact with commonly used HIV/AIDS drugs, thereby limiting their use in HIV/TB co-infected patients. New more effective TB drugs are needed to defeat this global killer.

Despite the important progress being made, severe bottlenecks are limiting the response to the M/XDR-TB epidemic. India, (which carries the heaviest burden of the disease), and other high burden countries, need to take the cue from China, to invest in innovation and resources in the fight against TB through similar initiatives. It is hoped that more such private-public partnerships will go a long way in getting rid of the menace of this dreaded disease.


Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS) and also serves as the Director of CNS Diabetes Media Initiative (CNS-DMI).She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email: shobha@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)  


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