Many of Sub-Saharan Africa's health research institutions are researching but not commercialising products and services that could impact lives or generate profits, say Ken Simiyu, Abdallah S.Daar and Peter A. Singer.
These 'stagnant technologies' — including traditional plant products, new drug molecules, diagnostics and vaccines — remain undeveloped because of a lack of scientific equipment or funding to carry out clinical trials.
The authors visited 23 academic and health research institutes to find out why this is happening.
They found that barriers to developing validated commercial products lie, mainly, in the cultural mindset of scientists and policymakers.
Academic researchers are measured by publications — not economic impact or lives saved, say the authors. A lack of innovation funds, similar to the millennium fund in Uganda, as well as poor government and institutional policies are to blame.
Initiatives to tackle the problem include the Life Sciences Convergence Innovation Centers, which aim to address the challenge by bringing together science, business and private investors.
But Simiyu, Daar and Singer argue that what is clearly needed is a venture capital fund to inject cash into stagnant ideas. The next big step in global health, they say, is to unlock these technologies to create new opportunities to provide a pathway to prosperity, jobs and better health.
Science, 330, 1483 (2010)