Stop TB Partnership


2016: Drastic Funding Shortfalls for TB Research

25 October 2016 - Liverpool, UK - Funding for research for appropriate TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment dropped by more than USD 53 million despite the disease killing 1.8 million people in 2015, according to the latest report issued by Treatment Action Group (TAG) with support from the Stop TB Partnership. The world spent USD 620.6 million on TB research and development (R&D) last year, the lowest level of funding since 2008. This marks the second straight year that funding for TB R&D has fallen, showing that very little is being really done to end TB by 2030.

"The world spent less on TB R&D last year than it did at the height of the great recession," said Mark Harrington, Executive Director of TAG. "Chronic underfunding of research in TB, the leading global cause of AMR deaths shows that governments must dramatically increase funding for UN pledges on AMR to become more than nice words on paper." The UK government’s Review on AMR predicts that drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) - a form of TB that is more difficult to diagnose and treat and that caused 500,000 people to fall ill in 2015 - will account for a quarter of the 10 million annual AMR deaths by 2050 unless research into new diagnostics, drugs and prevention methods is accelerated.

TAG has conducted a global survey of funding for TB R&D each year since 2005, and it has measured actual spending against the targeted funding called for by the Stop TB Partnership’s Global Plan to Stop TB 2011-2015. The Partnership’s Plan estimated that USD 9.84 billion for TB R&D was needed between 2011 and 2015. TAG’s report shows that actual funding for TB research amounted to USD 3.29 billion during that that time frame, just one-third of the target. The two largest funders - the US National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave 57 per cent of all money spent on TB research from 2011 to 2015. Over the same period, pharmaceutical industry investments in TB R&D dropped by 40 per cent, further intensifying the reliance on public and philanthropic donors.

"Limited funding is impacting everything in our TB work. First, it impacts the speed at which new tools can become available. Second, it impacts the pipeline. It also impacts advocacy efforts. Fourth, the annual decline in research funding will be translated into failures in reaching any target in the Global Plan to End TB, WHO End TB Strategy and the Sustainable Development Goals. It is embarrassing for the world -- funders and the pharmaceutical industry. It is a pathetic situation. I am afraid that when we realize the consequences of these actions, it will be too late," said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership.

According to Erica Lessem, TB/HIV Project Director at TAG, scientists have managed to make some advances against TB over the last five years despite a critical shortage of resources. "This demonstrates that TB research provides a good return on investment but investment remains too low to unlock the transformational innovations in prevention, diagnosis and treatment needed by people with TB and those that care for them," she said. Notable scientific advances over the past five years include:

  • The conditional approval of two new drugs - bedaquiline and delamanid - to treat DR-TB, the first in over four decades;
  • The development of a shorter regimen for treating latent TB infection that is safe and efficacious in children and people with HIV;
  • The development of several new diagnostic tests, including the rollout of a rapid and robust alternative to smear microscopy (GeneXpert), a simple test that can identify TB in people with HIV with very low CD4+ T-cell counts (Determine LAM TB), and several options for diagnosing first and second-line drug resistance faster than conventional culture (line probe assays); and
  • Significant advances in fundamental understandings of TB biology.

The next phase of TB R&D investments, as outlined in the new Global Plan to End TB 2016-2020, requires even more costly and complex endeavors to build on previous achievements. "There is no time to lose," said Dr Ditiu. "Political leaders must recognize that TB is an urgent threat to global health and the solution to ending TB will depend on science. Governments must step up to reverse the troubling decline in TB research funding or we risk losing the battle with TB," she concluded.

Download the 2016 Report on TB Research Funding Trends 2005 - 2015. This report was supported by the Stop TB Partnership.