Yesterday and today, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF) and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) convened “Lives in the Balance: Delivering Medical Innovations for Neglected Patients and Populations”, an event which is bringing key actors together to discuss progress and shortcomings in neglected disease research and development.

A new MSF analysis found that although neglected diseases account for an estimated 11 percent of the global disease burden, relatively few new therapies have been developed to help fight these diseases. As reported in Nature News Blog, “Just 3.8 percent of the 756 new drugs approved for use by US and Europe between 2000 to 2011 treat neglected diseases.” Only 1.4 percent of the 150,000 registered clinical trials were on neglected diseases (read the full report here).

"Vaccines are lacking for all major neglected diseases. We have a real problem,” explained Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the event.

Why is there not more being done? Sabin President, Dr. Peter Hotez explains that because neglected diseases affect the world’s most neglected people, those living on less than $2 USD a day, there is little profit margin for new drugs, vaccines or other products.

“Wherever you find extreme poverty, you are going to find these diseases, be it in Africa, Asia or even the US,” Hotez said in Nature.

Another post in the Nature News Blog, “Neglected diseases see few new drugs despite upped investment,” explores different possibilities for the lack of new therapies.

Hotez suggests that we may just need to be patient, as new drug development can take a decade or more. Encouragingly, new drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases are in the works. The Sabin Vaccine Institute is in the process of developing four vaccines for neglected diseases, and its human hookworm vaccine has shown preliminary success in Phase 1 clinical testing. DNDi also has several products in the pipeline.