Emerging infectious diseases and crises such as the Ebola outbreak, along with the growing problem of resistance to antimicrobial treatments, are issues of "pressing" global concern that should be prioritized by world leaders, called on to create a global research and development fund to reach solutions.

manipulated photo of earth as a small glass ball with stethoscope reading its healthShare on Pinterest
Antimicrobial resistance, neglected diseases and outbreaks like Ebola all need a global funding model to help where market incentives have failed.

Overcoming new threats from bacteria and viruses, and developing innovations to counter those evolving resistance to existing antimicrobial drugs, is a global health priority - and so too is beating neglected diseases, says the essay in the online journal PLOS Medicine led by Dr. Bernard Pécoul, executive director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative.

The authors call on action from the world leaders attending two key summits in the coming weeks.

They want a global research and development fund that allows lower-cost development of treatments to flourish where the market-led model is failing to meet pressing needs.

The paper, which has been coauthored by an international group of leaders of public and private research institutions, nongovernmental organizations and academic groups from Europe, China, India and South Africa, says:

"The devastating loss of human life from the Ebola outbreak of 2014 must not be in vain.

It must prompt serious changes to our joint international systems for stimulating innovation and ensuring access to health technologies for those who need them."

Both antimicrobial resistance and emerging infectious diseases, specifically Ebola, have recently been elevated to the "level of public health concerns affecting global security." There are prevention and management strategies that "can and should be scaled up" but innovation is lacking, say the authors.

"Therapeutics and vaccines for Ebola remain experimental and treatments for many neglected diseases remain archaic, while the current antibiotic pipeline is drying out and will most likely not meet current and future challenges, even if efforts to rationally use these medicines are stepped up."

These global health challenges are on the agenda for June's G7 summit.

The meeting of the leaders of seven top industrialized nations - including the US, the UK and this year's host country Germany - will take place in Schloss Elmau, Upper Bavaria, on June 7th and 8th.

The health priorities of antibiotic resistance, neglected and poverty-related diseases, and Ebola are nestled with other items on the agenda, including marine conservation, that will demand the attention of the leaders dealing first with global economy, international relations, security and development.

'Leaders should fund innovation to prevent deadly disease, not wait to fight a crisis'

The authors want the establishment of a "global biomedical R&D fund and mechanism for innovations of public health importance" to be one of the recommendations that result from the meeting.

They note that while large, international, multilateral funds exist for global health delivery, there is no significant pooled funding mechanism for research and development to complement existing but limited research funding for a wide range of diseases.

The other summit with potential influence on the matter is the World Health Assembly starting on May 18th. The 68th meeting of the "supreme decision-making group" will be in Geneva, Switzerland - a meeting of the world's health ministers to set the global priorities agreed by member states of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The authors making the call for a global fighting fund for health innovation include experts from Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), the charitable body founded by Louis Pasteur (Institut Pasteur), the Wellcome Trust and numerous international centers for global and public health.

Prof. David Heymann, chair of England's public health authority, is one of the authors and in another of his capacities, as head of the center on global health security at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), he wrote a commentary with others last week that calls for other moves that global leaders could make:

"G7 members could consider the opportunity to build on the momentum [following the Ebola outbreak] and solidify relationships between defence and health, and integrate the response to civilian health crises into the core function of their armed forces."

The lessons of the Ebola crisis also inform the arguments of the PLOS essay, which concludes that the "events of 2014 have shown that crisis management is more risky and costly, and less effective, than a prepared health system."

Innovation needs are also better met in advance than in crisis, it says, and a "preparedness R&D mechanism that can quickly deliver innovative responses to emerging health threats" is needed.

"With a stronger R&D mechanism in place, innovative vaccines and therapeutics could have been ready for testing earlier on in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa."

The authors believe a global fund agreed by world leaders would be a "win-win scenario for all - rich and poor populations, and public and private sectors alike." Reaching this would require the mobilization of countries "to take collective action" that transcends state and corporate interests.