Each year, seven million people worldwide die of HIVIAIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria and millions more lives, especially in developing countries, are profoundly affected by the impact of these and other global and neglected diseases. The world desperately needs new vaccines, drugs, microbicides and diagnostics to slow these epidemics; however the global community continues to face significant barriers in developing safe and effective technologies for these diseases.
Legislation introduced in the United States Senate on April 28, 2005, entitled the "Project BioShield I1 Act of 2005" seeks to provide incentives to increase private sector research into the development of countermeasures against infectious diseases and illnesses, including those associated with a biological, chemical, nuclear, or radiological weapons attack.
In July 2004, the President signed "Bioshield I" legislation into law. This legislation was an important first step toward the development of new medical weapons to fight bioterrorism. However, the next step is to address life-threatening, non-bioterrorism-related infectious and neglected diseases. The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), a professional society of 3,200 researchers and practitioners dedicated to the prevention and treatment of infectious and tropical diseases through research and education, recognizes the need for incentives, research and vaccines for global and neglected diseases and is very supportive of this BioShield I1 legislation.
Speaking on behalf of the Society, President Thomas Monath, MD, applauds this Bioshield I1 legislation, especially the long due recognition and prominence given to addressing infectious disease globally. Many of these global diseases, often classified as special neglected diseases, include HIVIAIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, emerging infections such as West Nile, dengue and MRSA, and most recently, neglected diseases including, leishmaniasis, African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, schistosomiasis, hookworm, filariasis, onchocerciasis, leprosy, trachoma, Buruli ulcer, Japanese encephalitis, and yellow fever.
The bill provides commitments to developing new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for the special and neglected diseases in developing countries. Historically, commercial incentives for industry to develop such products have been lacking. This legislation directly addresses this need. Specifically, it includes a provision which states that for every five countermeasures devoted to bioterrorism agents, two must be targeted for non-biodefense infectious diseases in the U.S. and two must be targeted for diseases in developing countries. ASTMH is encouraged by this provision as well as a provision that would create a discovery awards program for specific products, including a malaria vaccine. ASTMH believes that the commitment to building new products for neglected diseases in this legislation will be ground breaking.
Ultimately, this could lay the foundation for creating new pro-poor strategies for the world's low-income countries.
Congress must act quickly on the BioShield I1 legislation to spur the development of new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics to fight infectious and neglected diseases facing our world.