NIH to carry risks of neglected disease research

High-risk research into neglected diseases, which can often fail at the first hurdle, may be made safer as a result of a new programme.

The Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases (TRND) Programme will support preclinical research in which candidate drugs are tested in cells or animals — one of the most expensive and risky stages of drug development, where 80–90 per cent of projects fail.

The US Congress approved funds of US$24 million per year for the five-year programme, launched last month (20 May) by the US National Institutes of Health.

The scheme could be good news for developing countries where neglected diseases affect millions of people and inflict a high economic and health burden.

After taking a promising drug candidate through the preclinical phases of development the TRND initiative will look for co-investment from partners — including pharmaceutical companies or disease-oriented foundations — to fund human clinical trials.

The initiative will also foster collaboration between NIH-funded researchers in academia; the private sector and patient advocacy groups, says Stephen Groft, director of the NIH Office of Rare Diseases Research, which will oversee the programme. Researchers from developing countries may also be invited to take part.

“Research collaborations are frequently required in developing nations. These will be determined by the intended use(s) of the compound in the appropriate countries,” Groft told SciDev.Net.

Researchers will publish both positive and negative results so that the research community can avoid duplicating failures as well advancing research into promising drugs, says Groft.

Jana Armstrong, executive director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative in North America, told SciDev.Net that the programme “is really a good sign because translational research for neglected diseases [taking discoveries from laboratory to the clinic] is currently a missing piece”.

She adds that developing countries need drugs that are less toxic, easier to take and easier to deliver in remote settings.

© 2009 SciDev.Net