Geneva, 11 May 2015 — A group of renowned global health experts*, including from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), are calling for the creation of a global health research and development (R&D) fund and mechanism to address deadly gaps in innovation for emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola, anti-microbial resistance, and a host of other diseases that have been neglected by the pharmaceutical market. The call comes at a time when these and other public health challenges are high on political agendas in the lead up to World Health Assembly next week and the G7 Summit in June.
In an article published today in PLOS Medicine, the experts argue that recent proposals to tackle R&D gaps are too fragmented, while failing to adequately address issues of affordability, access and efficiency in the R&D process. The authors include experts from MSF and DNDi, as well as public and private research institutions, government officials, non-governmental organizations, and academic groups from Europe, China, India, and South Africa.
“Over a year into the crisis in West Africa, therapeutics and vaccines for Ebola remain experimental, the pipeline for new antibiotics is dry, and many diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines for a range of other neglected diseases are archaic, unaffordable, or non-existent,” said Dr Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of DNDi. “Various initiatives to tackle these gaps are being discussed but there is a risk that this will further fragment efforts to accelerate R&D for desperately needed new health technologies. A coordinated approach is crucial.”
The authors propose a fund and mechanism that can act as an “umbrella framework” to cover all disease areas that suffer from chronic under-investment in R&D. This “pooled fund” should complement existing funding mechanisms and secure long-term and sustainable financing primarily from governments but also other donors. It should be owned and overseen by governments with a strong link to an inter-governmental agency like the WHO, but private and philanthropic actors and civil society should be involved as stakeholders. Existing multilateral funds can serve as models, such as those created to scale up delivery of treatment and prevention programmes in developing countries like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and UNITAID.
“We need strong public leadership to fix our broken R&D system, which relies on monopolies and high prices and does not work for people who fall outside of the market-based paradigm,” said Dr Manica Btialasegaram, Executive Director of MSF’s Access Campaign. “Instead of a chaotic patchwork of new R&D mechanisms and funds linked to specific diseases, we need to effectively channel these efforts towards cohesive, needs-driven innovation that ensures equitable access for patients.”
The authors argue that the proposed fund and mechanism must take an independent approach to priority-setting, monitoring, and coordination of R&D, and be based on the principles of open knowledge innovation, fair licensing, and the de-linkage of the final price of a product from R&D costs.
The article is available on PLOS Medicine.
*List of expert authors:
Manica Balasegaram, Access Campaign, Medecins Sans Frontiers, Geneva, Switzerland
Christian Bréchot, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France
Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome Trust, London, UK
David Heymann, Centre of Global Health Security, Chatham House, London, UK
NIrmal Ganguly, Jawaharial Institure of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research, Puducherry, India
Martin Khor, South Centre, Geneva, Switzerland
Yves Lévy, INSERM, Paris, France
Precious Matsoso, Department of Health, Pretoria, South Africa
Ren Minghui, Department of International Cooperation, China National Health and Family Planning Comission, China Ministry of Health, Beijing, People’s Republic of China
Bernard Pécoul, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, Geneva, Switzerland
Liu Peilong, Department of Global Health, School of Public Health, Peking University, Peking, China
Marcel Tanner, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland
John-Arne Rottingen, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Norway, University of Oslo, Norway, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA