Can India lead the way in neglected disease innovation?

In a recent article published in The British Medical Journal (BMJ) calls for a comprehensive policy for neglected diseases research in India to foster innovation in drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines, critical for evolving needs of elimination programmes

Doctor in hospital

The article titled as ‘Can India lead the way in neglected diseases innovation?’ mentioned that neglected diseases predominantly affect poor and marginalised populations and do not constitute a market that is attractive enough to stimulate private sector investment.

The authors of the article then suggest that government should step in with appropriate policies and investments to support innovation.

The article mentioned that, a third of new drugs (six out of 18) and two thirds of new vaccines (six of 10) for neglected diseases registered since 2000 have had Indian involvement.

Nearly 12% of drug, diagnostic, and vaccine candidates for neglected diseases in the R&D pipeline are from India. The world’s first leprosy vaccine was developed in India and is expected to accelerate eradication efforts.

It also said, ‘India has successfully eliminated certain infectious diseases, such as guinea worm, trachoma, and yaws, in recent years. Yet, neglected diseases such as leishmaniasis, filariasis, leprosy, snakebite, and soil transmitted helminthic infections still pose a challenge.’

It also mentions how different policies of government does not mention neglected diseases or if it mentions how it does not spell out how will it be done. It also underlines how lack of funds and slow adoption of innovation being acted as hindrance.

The government should earmark a proportion of public funds for neglected diseases research and innovation, develop mechanisms to facilitate priority regulatory pathways for innovations in neglected diseases and creating common repositories of biological samples and other materials accessible to researchers, industry, and regulators would facilitate innovation are some of the way forwards suggested in the paper.

The article was recently published on January 22. Zakir Thomas, commissioner of income tax, former project director, Gautam Kumar Saha, scientific associate, Kappoori Madhavan Gopakumar, senior researcher and legal adviser, Nirmal Kumar Ganguly, are authors of the said article.

Abhijeet More, conveyor of Jan Aarogya Abhiyaan, an NGO, which works for health-related rights of people, stated, “Lack of policies for neglected tropical diseases hampers the progress on research and development front. If there is no policy, it also means no funding, which further hampers health services delivery about neglected diseases.”

More added, “As there are many neglected tropical diseases which needs to be eliminated from India we need to have proper policies, research and funding for the same.”