Brussels, 30 Apr 2003
Appropriate measures need to be taken and barriers overcome in order to bring life science research to bear on the problems of emerging and neglected diseases, concludes a new publication from the organisation for economic cooperation and development (OECD).
The publication, 'Biotechnology and sustainability - the fight against infectious diseases', consists of a number of cases studies that take stock of the lessons learnt in the use of biotechnology, genomics and informatics in the fight against infectious diseases. The publication also draws upon the reflections made by a group of experts, during an OECD conference in October 2002, on the type of research and development environment needed to address the current global health crisis.
The crisis is such that over 17 million people die each year from infectious diseases, many of which are classified as emerging or neglected. In the last 30 years, some 30 infectious diseases have emerged, the most recent being SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
In a foreword to the collection of case studies, OECD secretary director, Donald Johnston, stresses the need to identify areas where action is lacking and to focus on a specific research agenda to meet global needs. 'It is abundantly clear that our global community must do more to deal with the human, social and economic costs of infectious disease.'
The case studies show that the deployment of genomics for reverse vacinnology and biomedical diagnostics, as well as other advances in life sciences, proves difficult when faced with a lack of market incentives and insufficient coordination. Above all, however, it is inconclusive international partnership that has hindered the development of viable treatments to diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDs, notes the report.
However, a number of initiatives have been established in recent years to better coordinate actions in the area of infectious diseases. A good example of such an action is the Commission's 'European and developing countries clinical trials programme' (EDCTP), aimed at developing affordable drugs to treat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis through a new type of partnership between Europe and developing countries. The five year budget for the programme is 600 million euro, with 200 million coming from the EU, 200 million from national research programmes and 200 million from the private sector.
The publication points to a number of ways in which the potential of life sciences can be better harnessed. Some the measures include introducing better coordinated methods for evaluating treatment and research programmes; mapping the 'gaps' and 'overlaps' of initiatives already in place; reassessing corporate governance structures and philosophies in both public and public life science entities; and using early detection processes.
With OECD countries carrying out over 95 per cent of basic scientific research, the publication concludes that it is up to these countries to shoulder the responsibility for finding sustainable practices to address the issue of infectious diseases.
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