#WEF2017: Drugmakers in Davos shift focus to chronic diseases of poor

22 companies, including Pfizer, will contribute funds and expertise to the project, which is backed by the World Bank.

Snowflakes cling to a World Economic Forum sign on the streets of Davos, Switzerland on the first day of the forum on 17 January 2017. PIcture: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND - Two decades after they were spurred into action to tackle AIDS in Africa, global drug makers said on Wednesday they would invest $50 million over three years to fight cancer and other non-communicable diseases in poor countries.

Twenty-two companies, including Pfizer, Merck, Novartis, Roche, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, will contribute funds and expertise to the project, which is backed by the World Bank.

The so-called Access Accelerated initiative was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos and aims to improve both treatment and prevention.

In the past, the focus of healthcare in poorer parts of the world has been on fighting infectious diseases, whether through vaccinations, drug programs or the roll-out of anti-malarial bed nets.

Today, however, the healthcare burden is shifting as deaths from these conditions decline and people in increasingly urbanized populations succumb to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart and lung disorders fuelled by Western lifestyles.

Such non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are responsible for nearly 70% of all deaths worldwide and almost three quarters of them occur in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organisation.
Severin Schwan, the chief executive of Roche, the world's largest maker of cancer drugs, said his company and others were already implementing preferential pricing for the developing world but cost was only one obstacle.

Countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America also need improved healthcare systems if patients are to benefit from the latest developments in medicine.

"It has a lot to do with hospital infrastructure. You can't administer modern cancer medicines if you don't have sophisticated lab facilities," he told Reuters. "We're going to institutionalise cooperation in this area."

Cancer is the initial focus and drug companies will work with the Union for International Cancer Control to test out new diagnostics and treatments in several cities around the world on a pilot basis.

For more news, analysis and insights on Davos 2017 go to EWN’s WEF portal in partnership with Ashburton Investments.