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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today the addition of Lassa fever, chikungunya virus disease, rabies and cryptococcal meningitis to the list of tropical diseases. Applicants who submit applications for drug or biological products to prevent or treat these diseases may qualify for a tropical disease priority review voucher (PRV). A tropical disease PRV can be used to obtain priority review of a subsequent drug application that does not itself qualify for priority review.

Chikungunya virus/CDC
Chikungunya virus/CDC

To be eligible for a tropical disease PRV, a drug application must meet the criteria in section 524 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The criteria include that the application must be for the prevention or treatment of a “tropical disease.” Beyond the list of “tropical diseases” in the statute, the FDA can issue an order to designate additional diseases as “tropical diseases” if the agency determines that a disease has no significant market in developed nations and disproportionately affects poor and marginalized populations.

Products developed to treat or prevent Lassa fever, chikungunya virus disease, rabies and cryptococcal meningitis that meet the other criteria for eligibility can now qualify for tropical disease PRVs, hopefully helping to encourage development of safe and effective products for these harmful diseases.

“Part of our work to protect and promote public health of Americans includes monitoring global diseases and pathogens and ensuring we have a robust pipeline of drugs and biologics to treat or prevent the spread of these infectious diseases.

“Today we’ve added four diseases to a program designed to encourage development of new drug and biological products to prevent or treat certain tropical diseases affecting millions of people throughout the world, including Lassa fever, which impacted more than 400 people during an outbreak in Nigeria earlier this year, killing over 100 people. Tropical diseases cause a significant health burden globally.

“Yet, there has been remarkably little progress over the past 50 years in drug and biologic development to treat and prevent these diseases,” said FDA’s Chief Scientist RADM Denise Hinton.

“Although tropical diseases generally are uncommon in the United States, tourism, immigration and military operations are increasing the direct effect these diseases can have on the health of Americans. But because these diseases are found primarily in low- and lower-middle income countries, existing incentives have been insufficient to encourage the development of new and innovative drug and biological products.

“With the tropical disease priority review voucher program, Congress intended to stimulate development of drugs and biologics to prevent and treat infectious diseases for which there are no significant markets in developed nations and that disproportionately affect poor and marginalized populations.”