US should fund more late-stage health R&D, says report
The United States should encourage more public-private partnerships and increase its late-stage research funding, to improve the translation of research into products to fight neglected diseases, according to a report launched last week (27 April).
The report is a joint publication of the health research think-tank Policy Cures and the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) — an umbrella group for non-profit health research organisations. It follows calls made by the GHTC earlier this year to protect US global health research funding.
Over the past decade, the report found that the US government had provided 45 per cent of global health R&D — an investment of US$12.7 billion — resulting in the development of products that have saved millions of lives and dollars, and helped boost the US economy through funds that reached American researchers.
But a preference shown by US agencies for basic research has slowed the rate of translating breakthroughs into life-saving products for diseases that disproportionally affect developing countries, says the report.
To address this, it calls for greater investment in clinical trials and product-development research partnerships, at the same time noting that such projects can be risky for private companies.
It also identified product development partnerships (PDPs) — which bring together academia, industry, the public sector and international agencies — as a particularly promising but thus far undervalued mechanism.
US agencies only provide 11 per cent of PDP funding, despite them having already developed around 40 per cent of the 45 global health products registered between 2000–2010 — the period covered by the report.
"The problem is that the US agencies don't see themselves as needing anyone else, as they are so big," Javier Guzman, director of research at Policy Cures and a co-author of the report, told SciDev.Net.
"In fact, they could benefit by linking with new or existing mechanisms to aid translation [of research into products]."
Despite the US making a huge contribution to health research, he said it had been slow to react to new funding and research models, noting that a wide range of translation mechanisms are available. These include models to establish specialist centres for translation, which he said US policymakers had so far shied away from implementing.
"Clearly they need to change their policies. It is not about just investing, but doing so wisely to maximise returns."
One way to increase the impact of global health research would be to focus on developing partnerships within countries directly affected by certain diseases, according to John Reeder, director of the WHO's Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR).
"Capacity building and cooperation in low income countries is essential for developing products that work in the field," he told SciDev.Net.
But he warned against overgeneralising the report's conclusions, stressing that there was no single strategy for allocating resources, and that decisions to focus on basic or operational research should be taken on a case-by-case basis.
See below for a video about the report from VOA: