How Oxford is broadening the battlefront against tropical disease

By John Garth

Lessons learned in the collaborative effort against malaria have now been taken into battle against other diseases, with the foundation last year [2016] of a new organisation, the Infectious Diseases Data Observatory, also based in Oxford. There are economies of scale in using resources developed by WWARN, so IDDO also has its sights on neglected tropical diseases, poverty-related diseases and emerging infections. The mosquito-borne Zika virus is one.

Director Philippe Guérin reflects: ‘Innovation allows us to cross boundaries that unique research centres cannot achieve. Making research impactful is really the best return for innovation.’

With a Wellcome Trust grant, Paul Newton is expanding their work on gathering and mapping of medicine quality problems undertaken with WWARN to cover a wide diversity of essential medicines such as antibiotics and antiretrovirals. The resulting data resource should be made available later this year. ‘If you wanted to see the latest evidence of the quality of ampicillin in Belize or Brunei, for example, this would have all that information,’ says Newton.

Perhaps the most important role Guérin identifies for IDDO and its malaria subgroup WWARN is in doing what ‘big pharma’ tends to neglect. ‘On the basis of our experience in malaria we think we can have a similar impact for poverty-related disease and emerging disease,’ he says. ‘That’s a niche which is unlikely to be a major focus of commercial interests. It’s extremely important that academic institutions play that role and remain interested in disease where there’s no commercial value.’

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