Beginning this month, Pharmaceutical Technology will be featuring occasional reports on bio/pharmaceutical companies, organizations, foundations, and governmental bodies engaged in improving access to medicines and healthcare in the developing world. Industry work in this area has been on the rise during the past few years, according to the Access to Medicine Index, which ranks pharmaceutical companies on their efforts to provide access to medicines, vaccines, and diagnostic tests to people living in 88 countries. The index is published by the Access to Medicine Foundation (AMF), an international nonprofit based in Haarlem, The Netherlands, that is dedicated to improving access to medicine to societies in need. The 2010 index reports significant increases since 2008 in the sharing of intellectual property (e.g., compound libraries) for research purposes, collaborations targeting areas of need—including increased innovator–generic company partnerships, and innovative approaches to providing access to medicines (e.g., new funding mechanisms).
In July, the World Health Organization (WHO), World Trade Organization, and World Intellectual Property Organization gathered in Geneva to discuss the challenges involved in increasing the availability and affordability of medicines for those who need it most. While the problem is "nothing new, the context today is strikingly different than in the past," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan during the symposium. "A quest for greater fairness, in income levels, in opportunities, in access to medicines and health services, has become a strategy for coping with the unique pressures of a globalizing world."
Many groups are determined to overcome these growing challenges, paying special attention to the United Nation's call to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. In fact, a Millennium Goal Summit was held last month at UN headquarters in New York to discuss progress on the goals, which aim to end poverty and advance sustainable development. MDG 4, 5, and 6 specifically focus on improving child and maternal health, and combating HIV/AIDS, turberculosis, and malaria.PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI)
We start our on-the-ground global healthcare coverage by looking at the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), which provides funding and technical support to partners worldwide to accelerate the development of and access to malaria vaccines. Each year, approximately 250 million people contract malaria, and 900,000 die from the disease. The majority of deaths are among children under age 5 living in Africa. The parasitic infection, transmitted by mosquitoes, accounts for 40% of Africa's public health expenditures, or nearly $12 billion a year.
What is MVI?
MVI is an international nonprofit organization established as part of PATH in 1999 through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. PATH is a global nonprofit that works to create sustainable, culturally relevant solutions that enable communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health.
What does MVI do?
The organization identifies promising malaria vaccine approaches that target the most dangerous malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, and works with partners in private industry, government, and academia to move these approaches through the development process. MVI also works to ensure that any successful malaria vaccine will be available and accessible in the countries that need it most.
PATH support has provided Zambia with 5.3 million insecticide-treated bednets and more than 60% of pregnant women in the country now take malaria-prevention medication. In Ethiopia, 20 million bednets have been distributed.
What's new on MVI's radar?
Last year, MVI, along with GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals (Brussels, Belgium) and scientists in Africa, launched an efficacy trial of RTS,S, the world's most clinically advanced malaria vaccine candidate to date. The trial is underway in seven African countries and will involve as many as 16,000 children. MVI is also now collaborating with the US Agency for International Development's Malaria Vaccine Development Program and biopharmaceutical firm Crucell N.V. (Leiden, The Netherlands) to determine the effectiveness of Crucell's prime-boost vaccine approach against P. falciparum. This approach uses Crucell's proprietary recombinant adenoviruses to deliver a malaria antigen to the immune system.
Sources: AMF ( http://www.accesstomedicineindex.org/ ), WHO ( http://www.who.org/ ), MVI Press Office information, PATH MVI ( http://www.path.org/files/ER_malaria_fs.pdf, http://www.path.org/, and http://www.malariavaccine.org/ ).