Research article |

Innovation and Access to Medicines for Neglected Populations: Could a Treaty Address a Broken Pharmaceutical R&D System?

Authors: Suerie Moon, Jorge Bermudez, Ellen 't Hoen

Summary Points

  • The current system for the research and development (R&D) of new medicines does not adequately meet the needs of the majority of the world's population.
  • There is a lack of new medicines for the “neglected diseases”—those that primarily affect populations with little purchasing power, and therefore offer an insufficient incentive for industry to invest in R&D. However, with problems extending far beyond the narrow notion of neglected diseases, the issue is better understood as one of “neglected populations.”
  • International debate and proposals for reform have ensued, including the recommendation that governments begin negotiations over a binding medical R&D convention to address systematic, long-standing problems with innovation and globally equitable access to medicines. Despite the emergence of many new approaches to generating R&D that meets the needs of poorer populations, efforts remain ad hoc, fragmented, and insufficient.
  • We discuss how an R&D treaty could complement and build on existing initiatives by addressing four areas where the system remains particularly weak: affordability, sustainable financing, efficiency in innovation, and equitable health-centered governance.
  • We argue that effective tools for global governance are required to generate medical R&D as a global public good, based on the understanding that a politically and financially sustainable system will require both fair contributions from all, and fair benefit-sharing for all.