Movers and shakers in global health—including a lot of people not named Bill & Melinda—will be buzzing around the Seattle waterfront this week for what some people like to call the “Davos” of global health.
Like the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland—another picturesque setting with mountains and water nearby—the Pacific Health Summit is an invitation-only annual conference of about 250 world leaders in science, politics, and business. This year, they are gathering to brainstorm about how to put a dent in one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases: tuberculosis.
The list of power brokers appearing on the docket includes: Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization; Chris Viehbacher, CEO of drug and vaccine giant Sanofi-Aventis; Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Paul Farmer, founding director of Partners in Health, the famed physician to people in poor countries. Big Pharma will be well-represented by the likes of Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Bayer, and others.
The main theme of discussion, TB, rarely captures the attention of the masses, like, say, swine flu does. But it’s at least as worrisome, and it’s not going away. The disease, caused by a bacterial invader that attacks the lungs, is characterized by a chronic cough that makes it especially contagious. There is no vaccine, diagnostics aren’t very accurate, and no new drug has been developed in decades, as Farmer put it in a recent appearance in Seattle. That adds up to a pretty grim outlook for a lot of people. About one in three people on Earth (2 billion cases) are estimated to be infected, and TB kills 1.5 million people a year—ranking it right up there with HIV and malaria as one of the world’s leading killers.
“With TB, there have been no new drugs for 40 years,” says Michael Birt, the executive director of the Pacific Health Summit, and senior vice president for health and society affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research. “Industry can and should contribute more.”
This field has traditionally been plagued by a classic free market failure. No new drugs get developed … Next Page »
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