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Novartis takes on tropical diseases in Singapore

Scientists want to develop vaccines against TB and Dengue fever (Novartis)

The Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, has pledged its long-term commitment to tackling tropical diseases at the opening of its new research centre in Singapore.

Based in the city's Biopolis biomedical campus, the non-profit institute will focus its work initially on dengue fever and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

It aims to develop at least two vaccines for clinical testing by 2008 and to have them on the market by 2013, according to Novartis.

At Monday’s opening ceremony, Daniel Vasella, the company’s chief executive, admitted that Novartis and other pharmaceutical companies had done too little in the past to improve the health of people in developing countries.

“Every second someone is newly infected with TB, which has grown to be the third leading cause of death globally for people aged 15-59, while dengue fever infects as many as 50 million people a year and is endemic in over 100 countries,” he said.

“The relentless spread across the developing world of these diseases makes the discovery of new treatments critical.”

Speaking at the inauguration of the institute, Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin, who is on a three-day visit to Singapore, praised Novartis for its private initiative.

He said the industrialised world had a duty to invest in the medical research of tropical diseases.

Example

Paul Herrling, head of research at Novartis, said he hoped the project would set an example to the rest of the pharmaceutical industry.

The centre was set up jointly between Novartis and the Singapore Economic Development Board and has a budget of about SFr200 million ($162.2 million) over the next eight years.

The Singapore authorities invested $1.7 billion to build the Biopolis biomedical campus in a bid to attract multinational life science companies and encourage them to relocate their research departments.

More than 70 scientists and 30 students are expected to be working at the institute by the end of this year.

Plans for the institute were announced three years ago, and it began operations in 2003.

It is one of three corporate research centres run by Novartis, along with the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel and the Genomics Institute in La Jolla, California.

Swiss House

Couchepin is also due on Tuesday to inaugurate a Swiss House for Education, Science and Technology in the city.

It is the third institution of its kind after the Swiss Houses in Boston and San Francisco in the United States.

Couchepin also met Singapore’s prime minister, Goh Chok Tong, for talks on a range of political and economic issues.

Officials said the discussions focused on efforts to fight international terrorism as well as the treatment of minorities.

Another issue on the agenda was an increasing tendency of companies to outsource jobs to low-cost countries, including India and China.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Novartis institute aims to step up the fight against tropical diseases and hopes to develop at least two vaccines by 2013.

The institute was set up as a public-private partnership between Novartis and the Singapore Economic Development Board.

The Swiss interior minister, Pascal Couchepin attended the official opening of the institute.

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Key facts

Last year the authorities recorded about 300,000 cases of tuberculosis in eastern Europe and Asia.
A third of the population worldwide carries the bacterium
2.5 billion people are at risk of being infected with Dengue fever.
Novartis is a leading pharmaceutical firm and made a SFr4.7 billion profit last year.

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