India Excels in Funding Neglected Disease Research: New Report

Among other developing countries, India was responsible for the “lion’s share” of public funding.

New Delhi: A new report has found that the Indian government is the fourth largest funder for research and development into neglected tropical diseases.

With USD 1,595 million, the US government is the largest funder. The Indian government contributes USD 72 million.

Increased investments by the Indian Council of Medical Research helped boost India’s position, said Soumya Swaminathan, the deputy director general at the World Health Organisation and formerly the head of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR)

Among other low and middle income countries (LMICs), India is credited with being responsible for the “lion’s share” of public funding.

The findings come from an analysis of global investment into research and development (R&D) on new products for neglected diseases in developing countries, as part of the eleventh annual G-Finder survey.

The survey looks at funding for a number of diseases like trachoma, buruli ulcer, rheumatic fever, meningitis, leptospirosis and also for HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, dengue, hepatitis C and leprosy.

It examines funding from government sources, philantrophies, private sector funding and other types of organisations.

“It is very encouraging to note that investments in neglected disease R&D went up in 2017, especially from middle-income countries,” said Swaminathan. “Millions continue to suffer and new tools are urgently needed,” she said.

Indian government’s funding to neglected diseases

The need for drugs for neglected diseases and also for drug R&D is high in India. The country tops the number of cases for 11 different neglected tropical diseases such as lymphatic filariasis, visceral leishmaniasis, trachoma, tapeworm, roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, dengue and leprosy.

In 2017, there were around 2.8 million new cases of TB, which brought down the global decline of TB. One third of all TB deaths worldwide happen in India.

According to the G-Finder report, TB research gets the largest of all Indian government funding, with Rs 147 crore (30%). Malaria is a close second with Rs 115 crore (23%), while leprosy gets Rs 39 crore, dengue Rs 35 crore and HIV/ AIDS Rs 14 crore.

This year, India maintains its position as the fourth largest government funder globally into neglected disease research. It tops among other compatriot LMICs, contributing 72% of all the funding towards neglected disease research.

India also records the strongest global growth in public funding for R&D on neglected diseases since 2009.

ICMR gets special attention for its research and development

The top public funding agencies into R&D on neglected diseases in India are the ICMR, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)

As Swaminathan noted, ICMR’s overall funding in 2017 increased by 61% to Rs 38 crore. Among global government funders for R&D, ICMR is the fourth largest on TB, the third largest on dengue and the second largest on leptospirosis.

Among LMIC’s, the top three public funders into research in 2017 were India (USD 76 million), South Africa (USD 14 million) and Brazil (USD 9.2 million).

LMIC public funding increased even though Brazil cut back heavily. The ICMR is credited with keeping the funding high. The report says that the increased funding from LMIC’s “was due to a large increase in Indian government investment, which was in turn entirely due to additional funding from the Indian ICMR.”

ICMR’s funding gets special mention also for research on TB, Dengue and Leprosy.

On TB, the ICMR is the only LMIC funder in the top 12 countries.

Dengue saw a big fall in investment in 2017, which is “almost entirely” attributed to the cut back from the US, the Gates Foundation and the industry. But the ICMR increased its funding into dengue research in 2017, even over taking the Gates Foundation to become the third largest funder of dengue research globally.

A similar story is seen with leprosy, where global funding for it has been short in 2017 but despite this, the ICMR “contributed more funding than ever before”.