As global disease threat rises, US funding for research falls

This guest post was written by Jamie Bay Nishi, Director of the Global Health Technologies Coalition. It was originally published in The Hill.

Photo Credit: Greg Nash

Zika in the southern United States. Dengue fever and Chikungunya in Texas. Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in Wisconsin.

Because of these outbreaks, many Americans are now aware of a reality health experts have long understood: infectious diseases and other emerging health challenges are a threat everywhere—and not just a problem for low-income countries. The United States and the entire world must be equipped with tools to quickly address emerging threats, small and large.

In his inaugural address, President Trump spoke of the power of the American fight and spirit “to free the earth from the miseries of diseases and harness…the technologies of tomorrow.”

Yet, U.S. government funding for researching these and other diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria has reached historic lows. According to the new annual G-FINDER investment survey, U.S. government funding for neglected disease research and development (R&D) fell to the lowest level recorded since the survey began a decade ago, outside the emergency investment for Ebola.

This significant drop in funding increases our vulnerability at a time when global pandemics are on the rise and infectious diseases are mutating at a rapid pace.

This is alarming news and the consequences are likely to be significant. Declining American investment in global health research weakens our ability to prevent and respond to current and future disease threats, and stalls promising tools being developed.

Ebola is the most recent, devastating example. Funding cuts in 2012 permanently stopped an Ebola vaccine candidate, which had been fast tracked for review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, we did not have this critical tool on hand to stem the 2014 outbreak which caused the deaths of 11,310 people.

We cannot wait for an epidemic to trigger R&D — it is simply too late. Real-time, responsive funding cannot make up lost ground. Today’s innovations are the result of yesterday’s R&D investments. By reducing U.S. commitments now, we undermine our ability to respond to future threats.

American interests are at stake: we stand to jeopardize the United States’ reputation as a science and innovation leader, hurt the U.S. economy, and lose high-paying domestic jobs.

New research by the Global Health Technologies Coalition and Policy Cures Research shows that eighty-nine cents of each dollar the U.S. invests in global health R&D benefits American researchers. Funding generated 200,000 new American jobs and $33 billion in economic growth between 2007 and 2015. Cuts will have a direct impact.

On a global scale, strong and stable U.S. funding for R&D is vital to finding cures and treatments for the world’s most deadly diseases and future epidemics. Because these diseases often strike the world’s poorest places and families, there is little commercial incentive to develop urgently-needed vaccines or medicines, even for potentially-pandemic diseases.

Our investments jumpstart research and unlock new approaches that can be advanced by researchers, nonprofits, product development partnerships, and the private sector — and translated into lifesaving technologies.

This model works. U.S. government support and partnership has helped deliver 36 new vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and other tools to combat neglected diseases and conditions since 2000. More than 235 million people in Africa have received a new meningitis

A vaccine, which has already saved 378,000 lives and prevented 673,000 new infections. New child-friendly malaria drugs have helped cut childhood malaria deaths by 65 percent since 2000.

U.S. government funding currently fuels 126 global health products in clinical trials, including a robust pipeline of next generation technologies poised to deliver dramatic improvements in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika, and other neglected tropical diseases.

New drug regimens for tuberculosis — the world’s deadliest infectious disease — promise to address increasing drug resistance by driving down treatment times and costs. Scientists are advancing malaria vaccines that could eradicate the disease by preventing transmission from mosquitoes to humans.

U.S.-funded research is enabling new antibiotics to fight the rise of drug-resistant superbugs.  Many of these promising innovations will suffer if our support continues to fall.

To uphold President Trump’s promise to keep Americans safe and prosperous, the U.S. government must reassert its leadership in global health innovation, increase research funding, and recommit to advancing the R&D needed to conquer major disease threats of our times.

American-led innovation is an antidote to the threat of disease and key to eliminating HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and pandemics that will emerge as Ebola did several years ago. Through strong, sustainable investments in R&D for global diseases, the U.S. government can protect Americans and stimulate the U.S. economy, while delivering a healthier, more prosperous and stable world.