How Innovative Financing and Partnerships Are Transforming the Infectious Disease Product Pipeline
A biotech company CEO approached me at a conference recently with a potential solution for a rapid point-of-care diagnostic for tuberculosis. This is a disease with nearly 9 million new cases and over a million deaths annually, a disease that desperately needs a rapid diagnostic since patients with active TB, if left undiagnosed, can infect an average of 10-15 additional people each year.
The CEO said his company could develop a product that could predict active disease and wanted to know how he could get funding to enable his company to move meaningfully into product development. This is a common problem for companies interested in creating new tools for infectious diseases of low- and middle-income countries: They possess valuable experience and capacity and a promising starting point, but current market incentives — namely pricing — fail to justify investment in the R&D. They simply can’t expect a financial return for such products.
Yet we need the private sector. Put simply, life-science companies like biotech and pharma form the only entity that can effectively develop, produce and manufacture these products.
It’s not a question of demand. Around the world, 43 percent is at risk of contracting HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria or a neglected tropical disease, and one in seven people worldwide is already infected. These diseases kill millions of people each year, primarily in the low- and middle-income countries with weak health system infrastructure, but most of these people are too poor to pay for the tools that could save them. As a result, drug and vaccine development stalls out at the level of the tinkering scientists and well-meaning executives.
This presents a critical problem for the global health and development community: Even the best health infrastructure, the most innovative delivery models, and well-trained caregivers can only accomplish so much without the right drugs, vaccines and diagnostics to treat and prevent endemic diseases. When those health tools are outdated, carry worrisome side effects, have no pediatric formulations, or are experiencing increasing resistance — as is the case for most of these diseases, in the unique instances where such tools exist at all — the key question around global health R&D isn’t why, but rather how.
For Japan, a product development leader and long-time global health supporter, the “how” lies in innovative all-sectors-in financing and public-private partnerships — where the private sector truly has a seat at the table alongside government and civil society. The success of this approach serves as a crucial model for other countries with innovative life science sectors and policymakers committed to global health, global economic prosperity and human security.
- Health Care