[Ip-health] Money can't be the only motive for developing life-saving medicines

Joanna Keenan joanna.l.keenan at gmail.com
Wed Oct 19 09:17:46 PDT 2016

An op-ed in the Mail & Guardian in SA today by Ruth Dreifuss and Precious
on the UN HLP, explicitly mentioning delinkage.


Money can't be the only motive for developing life-saving medicines

*19 OCT 2016 00:00RUTH DREIFUSS
<http://bhekisisa.org/author/ruth-dreifuss>, MALEBONA PRECIOUS MATSOSO

Will the world act now to be ready for the next big outbreak?


In 2014, the world was left shaken by the most serious outbreak of Ebola
 ever seen. Before this, occurrences were primarily confined to remote
regions of West and Central Africa, where most people live on less than a
dollar a day.

Prior to 2015, Zika <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/> was
an obscure virus that received little attention from the global community.
No one expected either virus to leave its endemic borders or spread so
rapidly. Consequently, no vaccines were developed.

The Ebola outbreak and the spread of Zika are prime examples of our
collective failure to adequately develop and deliver medicines, vaccines
and diagnostics that could prevent and contain disease outbreaks —
particularly in the world’s poorest countries.

A new report
this month by the United Nations secretary general’s high-level panel on
access to medicines argues that the costs of these failures are

Although the origin of the Ebola outbreak can be traced back to poverty,
accessibility and a lack of medical infrastructure, the most persistent
obstacles to preventing future epidemics are tied to the lack of market
incentives to invest in “diseases of the poor” in which biomedical
companies expect insufficient return on investment. Promising Ebola
therapies languished in preclinical research and development for more than
10 years without funding. As a result, a reported 11 310 of the 28 652
people infected died.

These market dynamics are also why only two new classes of antibiotics have
been developed in the past four decades.

The market-based model of innovation has led to the development of several
life-saving medicines, vaccines, diagnostic tools, medical devices and
health technologies. These have saved millions of lives. Although this
constitutes progress, much more must be done by all actors — including the
private and public sectors — to promote health technology innovation.

The UN report
 calls on governments to negotiate an international agreement on the
co-ordination, financing and development of health technologies to
complement existing innovation models.

We also recommend the creation of an internationally binding research and
development convention that “de-links” the costs of research and
development from end prices. Delinking the two would ensure that product
pricing would not depend upon research and development costs and would
promote better access to needed technologies.

But new health technologies are seldom developed without high-margin market
incentives. This leaves those in the developing world with preventable
diseases and in need of specialised medicine to suffer and even die.

We need to think of creative ways like financial transaction taxes, public
funding for research or prizes to offset these costs to pharmaceutical
companies. These methods can supplement current models of research and
development so that we can collectively reduce costs borne by the people
who need these technologies the most.

More transparency
 about how prices are set is also needed. Presently, the true costs of many
health products — from research and development to marketing and
distribution— are cloaked in layers of bureaucracy and segmentation. It
remains extremely difficult to determine the costs of developing and
distributing a product, let alone whether there is an appropriate balance
between companies’ profitability and the global public good.

Outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola should not be killing and endangering
the lives of thousands of people or wiping out hard-won health gains. At
this point in history, it should be clear that business as usual will
continue to fail greater swaths of a ballooning global population for whom
these systems were never designed.

The costs of ignoring these problems have expanded to a point that we
cannot afford.

*Ruth Dreifuss is former president of the Swiss Confederation and co-chair
of the UN secretary general’s high-level panel on access to medicines.
Malebona Precious Matsoso is the director general of the South African
department of health and a member of the panel.*

Joanna Keenan
Press Officer
Médecins Sans Frontières - Access Campaign
P: +41 22 849 87 45
M: +41 79 203 13 02
E: joanna.keenan[at]geneva.msf.org
T: @joanna_keenan


More information about the Ip-health mailing list