Top executives from a slate of the world's biggest pharma companies will be rubbing shoulders with Bill Gates today as they roll out an ambitious plan to join hands on a $785 million effort to develop new drugs and distribute therapies designed to eradicate 10 long-neglected tropical diseases by 2020.
For his part, Bill Gates is pledging $363 million of Gates Foundation cash to the consortium to fund research and production. And Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, cheered the move, saying that "with the boost to this momentum being made today, I am confident almost all of these diseases can be eliminated or controlled by the end of this decade."
There are 13 Big Pharma companies in the consortium, which is being led by Glaxo CEO Andrew Witty. And as Witty noted, many of the companies have already been beavering away at the NTD field for years. Stung by repeated accusations that Big Pharma was solely interested in big profits, shunning the diseases that afflict the poorest people on the planet, Sanofi ($SNY), GSK ($GSK) and others have been working on their own pro bono projects in the field. Now Abbott ($ABT), AstraZeneca ($AZN), Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Eisai, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), MSD, Novartis ($NVS), Pfizer ($PFE) and Sanofi will be working together in a non-competitive field, in which there are no profits to be made.
Abbott, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer will partner on new drugs to treat helminth infections, notably a macrofilaricide, which kills adult worms that cause river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.
"Many companies and organizations have worked for decades to fight these horrific diseases," said Witty in a statement. "But no one company or organization can do it alone. Today, we pledge to work hand-in-hand to revolutionize the way we fight these diseases now and in the future."