Neglected tropical diseases targeted by Gates Foundation, drug companies

Leprosy is still a threat in parts of Indonesia, where this photo was taken on July 8, 2010. It shows former leprosy patient Adelino Quelo, 68, crouching outside his hut. His fingers, toes and parts of his hands and feet are missing. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
leprosy, indonesia, 4x3
Leprosy is still a threat in parts of the world, like in Indonesia, where this photo was taken on July 8, 2010.

(CBS) Bill and Melinda Gates want to put a stop to 10 neglected tropical diseases by 2020.

Their foundation is teaming up with 13 pharmaceutical companies and the U.S., U.K. and U.A.E governments to coordinate an effort to improve the lives of more than 1.4 billion people affected by the diseases, which include dengue and leprosy. The coordinated effort will include more than $785 million for research and funding medicine distribution.

"Many companies and organizations have worked for decades to fight these horrific diseases," Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, said in a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation written statement on behalf of the CEOs of the 13 pharmaceutical companies. "But no one company or organization can do it alone. Today, we pledge to work hand-in-hand to revolutionize the way we fight these diseases now and in the future."

In addition to GlaxoSmithKline, companies participating in the project include Sanofi Aventis, Novartis AG, Bristol- Myers Squibb Co, Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences Inc., Merck & Co., Bayer AG, Merck KGaA, Eisai Co., Abbott Laboratories, and AstraZeneca Plc, Bloomberg reported.

There are 17 neglected tropical diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Other diseases targeted by the initiative include Chagas disease, rabies, African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), onchocerciasis (river blindness), blinding trachoma, visceral leishmaniasis (sandfly disease), Guinea worm disease, and elephantiasis.

"These ancient diseases are now being brought to their knees with stunning speed," WHO director general Margaret Chan, told Reuters. "With the boost to this momentum being made today, I am confident almost all of these diseases can be eliminated or controlled by the end of this decade."

The news is a welcome announcement for pharmaceutical industry critics who say the companies only focus on treating first-world problems, like high cholesterol, according to The Telegraph.

"The execution, excellence and depth of understanding the problem is very strong in private-sector companies," Gates told Bloomberg. "If you can find a way to draw them in, it's absolutely the right way to do it."

The governments of Bangladesh, Brazil, Mozambique and Tanzania - countries in which several of the tropical diseases are endemic - announced they would implement the group's recommendations and devote resources to defeat the diseases.

The World Health Organization has more on the effort to eradicate neglected tropical diseases.