Why Research & Development

To meet the global health needs of tomorrow, it is critical to invest in research and development today so the most effective health solutions are available when we need them.

What is R&D?

 

R&D is the translation of an idea or discovery into a product that addresses a health need. In global health, the end result should be a safe and effective product that is appropriate, affordable, acceptable, and accessible to those who need it most.

Why do we need R&D?

 

R&D for new health technologies is an essential part of the solution to the world’s greatest global health challenges—and one of the biggest drivers of health improvements worldwide.

While tremendous progress has been achieved in global health over the last several decades, millions of people still die each year from infectious diseases and other health challenges. We will not continue to make progress against existing and emerging global health threats using current technologies alone. New vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and other health tools are needed to continue the arc of progress.

Health R&D has a multiplier effect. It not only saves and improves lives, but also creates cost savings, drives economic growth, and enhances global security.

What are health technologies?

 

Health technologies are tools used to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases and health conditions.

Devices & Tools

Health devices and tools can help to improve care and address persistent health challenges in communities around the world. Examples of high-impact devices and tools include:

  • Innovative injection tools that make drug and vaccine delivery easier and safer.
  • Reproductive health technologies that prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and ensure healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, including multipurpose prevention technologies, which do both in one product.
  • New ventilators adapted for low-resource settings that help babies take their first healthy breath.
  • Vector control technologies like insecticides and bed nets that prevent insects from passing on a virus or parasite.
In order for devices and tools to improve the lives of those who need them most, they must be affordable, accessible, and appropriate for the communities and settings in which they will be used.

Diagnostics

The first step in treating a disease or condition is identifying what it is. But in many places in the world, health workers lack the tools to make an accurate diagnosis, either because the right tool does not exist or those available are outdated, too costly, or inappropriate for the setting. In many cases, samples must be sent to a formal laboratory setting for review, adding additional time for an appropriate diagnosis. Ineffective diagnostic tools can delay treatment, cost lives, and allow epidemics to spread undetected.

Fortunately, researchers are making progress in developing promising new diagnostic tools that are affordable, portable, quicker, and easier to use. These new tests could deliver results in hours or even minutes on the spot, helping patients get the right treatment faster, saving lives and preventing epidemics.

Drugs

Every day, millions of people suffer or die too early because they do not have access to the right drug. Despite advancements in drug development in recent years, drugs for many diseases and conditions that disproportionately affect the poor are outdated, ineffective, too expensive, or in many cases nonexistent. And for diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria, emerging resistance to current drugs is of growing concern.

Researchers are making progress in unlocking greater understanding of these diseases and conditions and advancing development of new treatments. For example, new drugs under development include new regimens for TB which could shorten treatment time and significantly reduce costs, as well as new treatments for long-neglected diseases such as leishmaniasis, Chagas, and sleeping sickness.

Microbicides

Microbicides are biomedical products that block the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They come in many forms, including gels, tablets, films, vaginal rings, or as part of multipurpose prevention technologies designed to both prevent STIs and provide contraception.

Women are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection as a result of a combination of biology and gender inequalities, so safe and effective microbicides would fill a critical gap in HIV prevention. They would empower women with a discrete method for protecting themselves which does not require a partner’s cooperation. Several microbicide products are currently in clinical development.

Nutrition Technologies

Malnutrition, undernutrition, and micronutrient deficiency can increase a person’s vulnerability to diseases and other health conditions and impede intellectual development, robbing communities and nations of critical human capital and potential. An emerging field of nutrition sciences is studying new ways to combat these challenges.

Nutrition innovations in development include food products biofortified to increase vitamin and mineral content, development of high-yield and disease-resistant food crops, probiotic food products to combat diarrheal diseases, and compounds or mechanisms to deliver nutrient supplements such as iron or zinc.

Vaccines

Vaccines are medical products designed to stimulate a body’s immune system to prevent or control an infection. They are among the most effective public health interventions of all time, not only saving lives but contributing to significant long-term cost savings for health systems.

Vaccines were critical to eliminating smallpox and nearly eradicating polio; however, there are still many diseases for which vaccines have not been developed or improved vaccines are needed. Some are well known, such as HIV/AIDS, pandemic influenza, and tuberculosis, while others are less familiar but have a devastating impact in low- and middle-income countries, including Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, and chikungunya. A number of promising new vaccine candidates for these diseases are advancing through clinical development.

What does the R&D process look like?

 
Developing a new global health technology requires understanding the health needs of a community, uncovering insight into the biology of diseases or conditions through basic research, translating discoveries into potential products, testing products for efficacy and safety, securing regulatory approval, and introducing and scaling products in the geographies where they are needed.

Basic Research/Discovery

Preclinical Research

Clinical Trials

Regulatory Review & Approval

Introduction & Scale

Post-Approval Surveillance

 
 

Who are the players?

 

Academia

Conducts research to unlock understanding of diseases and conditions and advance product development, particularly at the early stage.

Communities

Inform product design and development and serve as critical partners in conducting clinical trials.

Governments

Directly fund R&D across all stages, particularly for diseases and conditions neglected by the private sector; enact policies to incentivize private-sector R&D; support R&D infrastructure and capacity-building; and oversee regulatory standards and processes.

Multilateral organizations

Build an evidence base and provide technical assistance to other stakeholders engaged in health R&D, convene and coordinate nations around shared health R&D objectives, and set product efficacy and safety standards for global procurement bodies that purchase and distribute products.

Nongovernment organizations

May provide direct funding for R&D to product development partnerships or academic institutions, conduct research to build an evidence base to inform product development, and/or engage in education or advocacy efforts to advance R&D.

Private sector

Conducts R&D directly in cases where a profitable market exists for a product or contributes as part of product development partnerships.

Product development partnerships

Bring together resources and talent from the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to develop critically needed health technologies for diseases and conditions neglected by the private sector.

Philanthropic donors

Fund R&D for diseases and conditions neglected by the private sector, as well as other supportive efforts, including education, advocacy, and research to build an evidence base.

What are the challenges?

 

There are many obstacles throughout the process of developing new health technologies. Most challenging is the lack of traditional market incentive for R&D. Diseases and conditions disproportionately impacting low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) offer little profit incentive for private-sector investment in R&D for new tools. Thus, sustained public-sector investment and philanthropic funding to advance new tools is essential.

Developing tools presents additional challenges. Products must be designed to be culturally appropriate, affordable, accessible, and acceptable in settings where there may be unreliable electricity, lack of access to clean water and refrigeration, and under-resourced health infrastructures.

As clinical development advances, product development costs typically escalate, placing increased burden on funders. Under-resourced health systems in LMICs can increase the difficulty and cost of advancing products through clinical trials. Additionally, limited staff and capacity at regulatory authorities, particularly in LMICs, can delay product review and approval, while different regulatory requirements across multiple countries can delay widespread product introduction. It can also be a challenge to secure local manufacturers that can produce products while meeting pricing, supply, and quality standards.

What is GHTC’s role?

 

The challenges for global health R&D are great, but not insurmountable. GHTC and our members work with industry, academic organizations, philanthropic donors, and policymakers to catalyze new investment and advance policy solutions to dismantle these obstacles and support the development of critically needed health technologies.

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