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Developing answers for developing nations
May 2013
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


TOKYO—Early April saw the announcement that five Japan-based pharmaceutical companies are forming a public-private partnership to help developing countries fight infectious diseases. Called the Global Health Innovative Technology (GHIT), the fund will be composed of Astellas Pharma Inc., Daiichi-Sankyo Co. Ltd., Eisai Co. Ltd., Shionogi & Co. Ltd. and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.—plus the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Japanese government—who have pledged to develop therapeutic medicines, vaccines and diagnostics for these countries.  
The partners say that this partnership is the first of its kind in Japan and "will follow the model that has become the trend now in global medicine research." They note that some groups have formed in Europe to do similar work, such as the Innovative Medicines Initiative that supports research into specific priority health areas like resistance to antibiotics. GHIT will provide funding for research into HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).  
The priority is "to provide fast and impactful research with the spirit of collaboration," according to Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, science adviser to the Japanese government and the GHIT Fund chair. "The launch of the GHIT Fund is the first step toward significant contributions that take into account Japan's growth strategies," he adds. "All parties involved agree that we will combine our energies to make tangible the kinds of contributions in innovation that Japan is capable of."  
The GHIT Fund aims to reinforce Japan's contribution to global health by developing new health technologies, utilizing the highly developed science and technology capacity found at the country's pharmaceutical companies, universities and research institutions, noted Takeda in a statement about its involvement in GHIT. "In providing grants for promising research, the GHIT Fund will help bridge the gap between basic research and clinical studies," the company said, "allowing for unprecedented medicines, vaccines and diagnostics."  
For its part, Eisai reports that it is "committed to contributing to the improvement of public healthcare for peoples in emerging countries and the developing world and the expansion of economic development, the middle class and other factors that may benefit those regions." The company considers this commitment as a long-term investment in its future in an increasingly globalized era to effectively combat infectious diseases, including NTDs. Eisai expects the establishment of the GHIT Fund to lead to further global public-private partnerships focused on the development of new drugs and contribute to global health through advances made in new health technologies in Japan.  
Eisai has also noted that it is also a signatory to the London Declaration, which is reportedly the largest global public-private partnership to date and aims to eliminate 10 NTDs by 2020. As part of its commitment under the declaration, Eisai has agreed to produce at its Vizag Plant in India 2.2 billion tablets of the lymphatic filariasis medicine diethylcarbamazine and supply them to the World Health Organization at no cost. Furthermore, the company is moving ahead with new drug development projects targeting malaria and NTDs such as Chagas disease and leishmaniasis, based on partnerships with international non-profit organizations such as the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative and Sabin Vaccine Institute as well as Brazil's national research agency, the FundaÇão Oswaldo Cruz.  
As a company with a global operational presence, Daiichi Sankyo notes that it is extending its social contribution activities, such as the establishment of mobile healthcare field clinics service in India, Cameroon and Tanzania, to developing countries, with the aim of contributing to the realization of the United Nation's global Millennium Development Goals, and Daiichi sees its participation in the GHIT Fund is yet another important part of its initiative to improve access to medicine in developing countries.  
Astellas stresses its commitment as well to accelerate the discovery of new drugs for patients suffering from NTDs throughout the world, "through our commitment on collaborative drug discovery research projects especially for new anti-protozoan or anti-dengue virus drugs, which have been advanced with multiple leading research institutes in Japan."  
Finally, Shionogi has been dedicated to providing innovative medicines for the treatment of infectious diseases, "and will continue to focus on this therapeutic area to offer the greatest possible contribution to improving the lives of patients suffering from infectious diseases," it says, adding that its participation in the GHIT Fund is also expected to strengthen the healthcare and the quality of patient treatment in developing countries. "Shionogi strives constantly to accomplish its mission to provide innovative medicines to patients all over the world, and the GHIT Fund is a new, and important, element of that overall mission."
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