Europe failing to respond to global TB threat, MSF report reveals insufficient and badly designed funding for research

New analysis from international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) shows how the European Commission is failing to pay its fair share towards discovering and developing new tuberculosis (TB) vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.

MSF is calling on the European Commission to increase its funding five fold into research for medical tools to fight TB in the face of a global epidemic that claims 1.7 million lives a year.

"Because the tests and drugs we use today aren't anything like effective enough, MSF teams responding to the epidemic in Africa and Asia are faced with an almost impossible task," said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Director of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "We desperately need new vaccines, drugs and diagnostics for TB. This will only happen with more research."

This is ever more urgent given TB's rapid spread among people living with HIV and the rise of drug-resistant strains of the disease which do not respond to many of the commonly used treatments.

On a global scale, around 1.45 billion euros needs to be spent on TB research and development (R&D).  MSF estimates that the European Union's (EU) fair contribution would be 409 million euros a year. But MSF's report shows that the European Commission spent a mere 18.7 million euros on TB R&D in 2007.

"Europe's responsibility here is clear," said Dr. von Schoen-Angerer. "Countries right on Europe's doorstep – and even within the European Union – are struggling against resistant strains of the disease.  But the research budgets remain pitifully low.  Tuberculosis is knocking loudly on the door, but the European Commission is playing deaf."

And member states are not making up the shortfall. An earlier MSF analysis found that Germany, the EU's largest economy, was only contributing 7.5 million euros in 2007. "The European Commission cannot pass the buck on to the member states and vice versa", said Dr. von Schoen-Angerer.

MSF's analysis also shows how the European Commission (EC) funding is badly tailored to suit the needs of developers of vaccines, drugs and tests. The EC largely ignores new alternatives to the traditional patent-based research model, such as non-profit partnerships and prize funds. By eliminating the need for high drug prices to recover research and development costs, these innovative approaches could overcome the neglect of research into diseases that do not attract sufficient investment from industry, such as tuberculosis.

While it focuses on TB, MSF's analysis also looked at other diseases: in 2007, only 17.1 million euros were spent on research and development for malaria. Not a single euro went into research for other neglected tropical diseases such as Leishmaniasis or Chagas, although these affect millions of people in developing countries.

MSF treats almost 30,000 people with tuberculosis in 39 countries worldwide.

> Download Report "Cough up for TB! The Underfunding of Research for Tuberculosis and Other Neglected Diseases by the European Commission"