U.S. continues to fight global disease

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In tough economic climates such as this, we should be asking ourselves what tangible benefits we will see for each dollar spent. If the momentum gained in the last few years is any indicator of our future trajectory, we are standing on the threshold of a revolutionary change in the state of global health.
Today we are seeing nothing short of a historic entrepreneurial period of discovery for both long-neglected and newly threatening diseases, and it is critically important that we build on this momentum in the coming years. Millions of lives have been saved, and millions more depend on it.

The story behind these advancements is little known. The story line can be traced to the creation of groups of innovative entrepreneurs who work on the front lines of disease prevention in organizations called Product Development Partnerships, or PDPs for short. These are great examples of public-private collaborations and they are starting to build deep pipelines for new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tools.

What are PDPs? Think of them as modern day matchmakers in the world of science. These groups – just two dozen exist -- are building bridges between top global players in the private and public sectors that have different, but complementary, strengths.  PDPs are also part of the overall investment in health research that is boosting local and national economies.  According to Research!America, health research and development in the U.S. translates to hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs in states across the country. 

The goal of PDPs is to discover, develop, and deliver cost-effective health tools that any one group would normally be unable to pursue on its own. The goal is to find solutions for diseases causing the greatest burden of sickness and death.

Successes are starting to come in.   Among them, a new tool to diagnose dangerous drug-resistant tuberculosis. This machine, called GeneXpert, came from technology first developed by the U.S. military in its efforts to protect U.S. postal workers from anthrax. Now, after an effort coordinated by the PDP group Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, the GeneXpert can detect drug-resistant TB in two hours, compared to an older test taking more than two months.

Presently, USAID support is helping the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) to focus efforts on ensuring the development of a vaccine that is effective and accessible in the developing world. As a result of this and other donor support, IAVI researchers recently isolated and analyzed a number of potent antibodies that hold vital clues for designing an AIDS vaccine. 

This discovery came about due to the collaboration from developing and developed countries and from academia and industry.  In conjunction with equally important advances from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and other innovators, there is a renewed optimism for the prospects of developing an effective AIDS vaccine.  And the cutting edge techniques being used to design HIV vaccines holds potential for other diseases like hepatitis, dengue fever and influenza.

More ground-breaking research will be needed to fully develop vaccine, drug and diagnostic candidates and take them through late-stage clinical trials. PDPs will be essential to ensure the development, safety and success of these products.

This is a moment to celebrate our successes of the past years. This also is a moment to lay the groundwork for more success in fighting AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, measles, meningitis, diarrheal diseases, pneumonia, and a host of long-neglected diseases. We, as a nation, have the chance to make an extraordinary mark in history as life savers.

Wendy Taylor is Senior Advisor of Innovative Finance and Public Private Partnerships at the U.S. Agency for International Development. David N. Cook is Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.