Gary Michelson, Peter Hotez: Neglected Tropical Diseases Video Discussion

Our technical ability to treat neglected tropical disease and make vaccines to prevent them has outpaced our political, social and financial instruments. Dr. Peter J. Hotez and Gary K. Michelson discuss why this is and propose ways to overcome these obstacles.

The Neglected Tropical Disease Problem

Peter Hotez of the Sabin Vaccine Institute was working on the treatment and development of vaccines for neglected tropical disease, recognizing them as the most, “most important diseases you’ve never heard of”, affecting over 450 million people. They are the most common afflictions of people living in poverty. 1.4 Billion of world’s poorest have no health care, are living on edge of starvation, and living below poverty level.

LA Times Article

In an effort to bring attention to this unmet medical need, Hotez published an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times in 2010 titled,“Diseases we can stop, but don’t”. In this article, he explained that some of the world’s most glaring health problems affecting impoverished girls and women are also some of the easiest to address. The article concluded by pointing out:

Peter Jay Hotez, M.D., Ph.D. discusses neglected tropical disease (Credit: Baylor College of Medicine)Peter Hotez: Controlling and eliminating neglected tropical diseases is one of the most effective and cost-efficient humanitarian interventions available today. It is also the surest way to maximize the impact of the new Global Strategy to address the plight of girls and women. [1]

Hotez had developed a low cost approach with a package of re-purposed medicines from pharmaceutical companies to help impact the world’s most common inflictions of poverty and was working on the development of vaccines to prevent them from happening in the future. He needed resources for these initiatives.

When Dr. Gary K. Michelson read this article, he was moved. So he took action. He looked up Hotez’s phone number, called his office and offered to help him address this problem.

Dr. Gary K. MichelsonDr. Gary K. Michelson: When I was in medical school, I think we spent 15 minutes on neglected tropical disease, and they were nothing but oddities. To be hit over the head with a baseball bat… that there are 1.4 billion of the world’s absolute poorest, most destitute people who have no health care, who have no voice…. And they’re all living on the edge of starvation… below poverty level. The little bit of nutrition they’re having is being stolen by the worms that affect them. How can we, in the developed countries, allow that?

Challenges of Eradicating Neglected Tropical Disease

There isn’t a collective will to help eradicate these neglected tropical disease yet. Dr. Gary Michelson believes we need to raise the level of awareness about it.

The dollar amount is so modest, how could we not take this on? These are diseases we could stop, but don’t… Using existing medications, we could treat neglected tropical disease for only 50 cents per year.

These countries don’t have the resources to resolve these issues and vaccines take a long time to develop. Most investors do not have the patience to invest in something that takes so long.

Technical ability to make vaccines has outpaced our political, social and financial instruments to get them out there.

The Ebola vaccine was published in Nature magazine in 2003. It was considered an epidemic n 2014-1026. During that time, the US government through The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), put up $100M to manufacture the Ebola vaccine, but it was too late. By the time the vaccines were ready, the outbreak was over and over ~11,000 people died, unvaccinated and unprotected. [2]

What It Takes To Get Attention

It’s not a new story, so media isn’t covering it. These are diseases we don’t hear about in developed nations and there hasn’t been a plighted celebrity to bring attention to it, such as the way Michael J. Fox did with Parkinson disease, and how Christopher Reed’s paralysis brought attention to spinal cord research.

If you believe it is the government’s duty to act on behalf of the people, then we need to pressure our representatives to do something more about this and help develop the vaccines.

The U.S. government investment in response to HIV has risen to more than $32 billion in FY 2017, with 17% of that money (approx. ~$6 billion) going to global treatment, even though there are only 35 million cases of HIV in the entire world. Compare that to 1.4 billion people who are afflicted by a neglected tropical disease, which only has ~$100 million dollars committed to it. [3]

Neglected Tropical Disease in the United States

Sabin estimates that ~12 million Americans are living with neglected tropical disease, such as Chagas disease and toxocariasis.

Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to animals and people by insect vectors that are found only in the Americas (mainly, in rural areas of Latin America where poverty is widespread). Chagas disease (T. cruzi infection) is also referred to as American trypanosomiasis (Credit: PBS)

Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to animals and people by insect vectors that are found only in the Americas (mainly, in rural areas of Latin America where poverty is widespread). Chagas disease (T. cruzi infection) is also referred to as American trypanosomiasis. (Credit: PBS) [4]

Toxocariasis, neglected tropical disease (Credit: International Medical University Malaysia)

Toxocariasis is an infection transmitted from animals to humans (zoonosis) caused by the parasitic roundworms commonly found in the intestine of dogs (Toxocara canis) and cats (T. cati). (Credit: International Medical University Malaysia) [5]

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’s latest report, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, estimated that about 5 percent of the United States population — or about 16 million people — currently carry Toxocara antibodies in their blood, a sign they have ingested the eggs. [6]

Research by the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY has found that Toxocariasis can cause cognitive and developmental delays in humans and Dr. Peter Hotez hypothesizes it may be responsible for the achievement gap noted among social and economically disadvantaged kids in the United States. There is no currently no gov’t funding allocated towards it. [7]

MMRF Philanthropy & Approach

Gary K. Michelson has generously donated funds to Sabin through the Michelson Medical Research Foundation. Dr. Michelson picked the most common, ubiquitous and important to treat, schistosomiasis and hookworm. Vaccines to treat both are currently in clinical trials.

Schistosomiasis - neglected tropical disease (Credit: NBSJ)

Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is a disease caused by parasitic worms. According to the CDC, more than 200 million people are infected worldwide. In terms of impact this disease is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease. (Credit: NBSJ) [8]

Hookworm neglected tropical disease (Credit: Cosmos)

The CDC estimates that 576-740 million people in the world are infected with hookworm. Hookworm, Ascaris, and whipworm are known as soil-transmitted helminths (parasitic worms). Together, they account for a major burden of disease worldwide. (Credit: Cosmos) [9]

Most individuals in developing nations suffer from one or both of schistosomiasis and hookworm.

Sabin is currently developing new vaccines for these disease and using re-purposed medicines from pharmaceutical companies to treat existing disease.

The Human Vaccines Initiative

Peter Hotez had been one of the earliest scientist highlighting the need to focus on vaccine development when he published an article in the Los Angeles Times in 2010 about it.

Since then, scientists across the globe have echoed the need to better understand the human genome and develop better vaccines to reduce the prevalence of all diseases. Now there is a robust effort to address vaccine research and development, beyond just the neglected tropical disease space.

In February 2014, The Human Vaccines Project [HVP] was formed by 35 leading global scientists from the public and private sectors. The Human Vaccines Project [HVP] is a global nonprofit that brings together leading stakeholders across academia, industry, governments and nonprofits. Their mission is to accelerate the development of vaccinations and immunotherapies against major global infectious diseases and cancers by focusing on the pre-competitive immunology research space and decoding the human immune system.

Lisa Luther is a contributing author and coder who works with the Michelson Medical Research Foundation. Lisa has 9 years of experience working in biotech on strategic businesses initiatives and in the Program Management Office, where she facilitated the development of innovative combination biologic drug/electromechanical medical device products. Lisa is a Six Sigma greenbelt and holds a MBA degree.

Lisa Luther is a contributing author and coder who works with the Michelson Medical Research Foundation. Lisa has 9 years of experience working in biotech on strategic businesses initiatives and in the Program Management Office, where she facilitated the development of innovative combination biologic drug/electromechanical medical device products. Lisa is a Six Sigma greenbelt and holds a MBA degree.

Lisa Luther is a contributing author and coder who works with the Michelson Medical Research Foundation. Lisa has 9 years of experience working in biotech on strategic businesses initiatives and in the Program Management Office, where she facilitated the development of innovative combination biologic drug/electromechanical medical device products. Lisa is a Six Sigma greenbelt and holds a MBA degree.

Lisa Luther is a contributing author and coder who works with the Michelson Medical Research Foundation. Lisa has 9 years of experience working in biotech on strategic businesses initiatives and in the Program Management Office, where she facilitated the development of innovative combination biologic drug/electromechanical medical device products. Lisa is a Six Sigma greenbelt and holds a MBA degree.


The Michelson Medical Research Foundation's Groundwork blog is brought to you thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.

The Michelson Medical Research Foundation's Groundwork blog is brought to you thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.

The Michelson Medical Research Foundation's Groundwork blog is brought to you thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.

The Michelson Medical Research Foundation's Groundwork blog is brought to you thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.


Gary Karlin Michelson, M.D. and Alya Michelson from the Michelson Medical Research Foundation are proud sponsors of the Michelson Prizes for Human Immunology and Vaccine Research, in partnership with the Human Vaccines Project, which supports young investigators applying innovative research concepts and disruptive technologies to defeat major global diseases by significantly advancing the development of future vaccines and therapies.

Gary Karlin Michelson, M.D. and Alya Michelson from the Michelson Medical Research Foundation are proud sponsors of the Michelson Prizes for Human Immunology and Vaccine Research, in partnership with the Human Vaccines Project, which supports young investigators applying innovative research concepts and disruptive technologies to defeat major global diseases by significantly advancing the development of future vaccines and therapies.

Gary Karlin Michelson, M.D. and Alya Michelson from the Michelson Medical Research Foundation are proud sponsors of the Michelson Prizes for Human Immunology and Vaccine Research, in partnership with the Human Vaccines Project, which supports young investigators applying innovative research concepts and disruptive technologies to defeat major global diseases by significantly advancing the development of future vaccines and therapies.

Gary Karlin Michelson, M.D. and Alya Michelson from the Michelson Medical Research Foundation are proud sponsors of the Michelson Prizes for Human Immunology and Vaccine Research, in partnership with the Human Vaccines Project, which supports young investigators applying innovative research concepts and disruptive technologies to defeat major global diseases by significantly advancing the development of future vaccines and therapies.