Research: men going bald or malaria?
Research: men going bald or malaria?
Simon Trace writes about how people decide what to research.
How do people decide what to research and develop? How do they decide which new drugs and treatments are most important to develop? It should be what we need most. It should be what affects most people, or where we don’t have the treatment already.
But there is often very little relation between how much money goes into research, and what people really need. The Lancet said in 2013 that only one per cent of global health research and development money is spent on the ‘neglected diseases’ – a group of over 30 diseases, from HIV/AIDS, malaria, and diarrhoeal disease to leprosy, trachoma and rheumatic fever. These affect many people in the Global South. This is part of a bigger problem that also means we don’t spend enough money on finding something to replace antibiotics that no longer work, or diseases that have a big effect but don’t affect very many people.
About 60 per cent of all money for research in health is private money. So it goes to research into products that will make more money - products for rich countries. And sometimes they develop drugs that don’t do much for health, but make money because they don’t cost too much. This is why Bill Gates complained that it was easier to get money to research why men go bald than to develop a vaccine for malaria!
And there are other problems. We have Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to encourage innovation: no-one else, only the innovator, can make money from the research for a time so they can get back the money they invested. But IPR often stops people getting the new medicines they need. When IPR was included in international agreements in the World Trade Organization (WTO) this meant that the big pharmaceutical companies (mainly US and European) stopped poorer countries making cheaper versions of the drugs in their countries. In the early 2000s antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS for a year with Western brand-name drugs cost $10,000. But a generic medicine might have cost less than $200. So the economist Joseph Stiglitz said, when trade ministers signed the WTO agreement in Marrakesh in the spring of 1994, that they were killing thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries.
We need a new way to look at researching new technology if we want to end this injustice, and research really important areas. We cannot allow the market to control research into health. People have suggested more grants, competitions and prizes, and ‘Advanced Market Commitments’ (where the company that gives the money promises to buy the new drug, after development, at a price higher than the market price once developed) to push research and development in the right direction. But the most interesting suggestion is a recent approach sponsored by the Indian government – Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD). They developed this to create new drugs to treat tuberculosis and malaria. The OSDD follows the same type of group innovation as the open-source software industry. It tries to make sure that people will be able to buy generic forms of all the drugs it develops, with no intellectual property restrictions. This will mean the people who need the drugs most will have enough money to buy them.
Simon Trace writes about the use of technology in international development. He wrote Rethink, Retool, Reboot: technology as if people and planet mattered.
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/2016/05/01/medical-research-priorities/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).