Hundreds of millions of people are affected by “diseases of the poor,” such as African sleeping sickness, Leishmaniosis, and Chagas disease, as well as better known killers like Malaria and Tuberculosis. There are far too few drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests to address these health challenges. New vaccines, drugs, and tests for the diseases above could bring dramatic benefits to developing countries. However, the people most in need of these new technologies have few resources to pay for them. The resulting small and uncertain markets have deterred investment by the private pharmaceutical industry. The public-sector agencies in high income countries that fund much of basic biomedical research have also focused primarily on diseases that are important within their own countries. The result is the often-cited “90/10 gap”: only 10 percent of health research and development (R&D) spending is devoted to the health problems of 90 percent of the world’s population.
Promising ideas are emergin to close this research gap, by creating new financing streams, incentives for scientists and biopharma companies, changes in intellectual property arrangements and in regulatory institutions and practices. Funders, policy-makers and other interested parties urgently require neutral and analytically sound assessments of these proposals.
In 2009, R4D launched a three-year project funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a Center for Global Health R&D Policy Assessment. The Center aimed to expand and improve the information used by governments, philanthropists and private investors in making decisions on new ways to drive global health R&D. The Center, whose work was disseminated on Healthresearchpolicy.org undertook three main activities:
- Landscaping Proposed Policy Innovations: The Center tracked policy innovations and created an online database, allowing users to browse proposed policies to accelerate product development for global health. This innovation database organized policy proposals into “push” (helping to pay or manage R&D costs up front) and “pull” (presenting rewards for the development of a final product.)
- Conducting Independent Assessments of Selected Innovations: The Center for Global Health R&D Policy Assessment produced a series of analytic papers that examined specific proposals for speeding the development of new health technologies for the developing world, aiming to provide an objective and rigorous review of each innovation’s merits. These assessments involved literature review, economic and financial analysis, interviews with researchers and product developers, academic experts, potential product users, and potential donors. Final assessments address topics including: Health Product Prizes, Open Source Research, Pooled Funding to Finance R&D Research, Tax Credits, and Joint Intellectual Property Management.
- Conducting Relevant Policy Research and Analysis on Emerging Topic in R&D: The Center also conducted research and policy analysis on a range of emerging topics in global health R&D. Topics included: India’s Role in Global Health R&D, R&D for Non-communicable Diseases, and the Global Health Social Enterprise. The Center’s also produced an on-line primer on collaborative R&D provided practical applications, tactics, and tools for funders, researchers, and policy-makers: http://healthresearchpolicy.org/primer The primer specified terminology and background for health R&D approaches relying on open source, innovation, access, and other tactics for collaboration.